HL Deb 15 March 1859 vol 153 cc167-70

My Lords, I yesterday gave notice to my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs that I would ask him to-day for such information as he might not think it inconsistent with his duty to give, with respect to the Stade dues, which, as my noble Friend is aware, materially affect a considerable portion of the manufacturing and trading interests of this country. I will now state in a few words why I ask for this information from my noble Friend. Early last Session an hon. Member of the House of Commons (Mr. J. L. Ricardo) moved an Address to the Queen, praying that notice might be given to the Hanoverian Government of the termination of the treaty of 1844. That was met by the Government by a Motion for the appointment of a Select Committee to inquire into the whole subject; and that Motion was agreed to. That was, I think, a wise and proper course to pursue. The President of the Board of Trade was the Chairman of that Committee, and the Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs was one of the members. The Committee presented to the House a unanimous Report, in which they said— That the proportion of Stade toll and freight in British ships from Hull to Hamburg is at the present time on a bale of spun silk 115 per cent, on a bale of cotton goods 142 per cent, and on a bale of woollen yarn 36 per cent; that the average annual amount of Stade tolls under the British flag has arisen from £3 10s. per 100 tons British, in 1847 to £4 6s. 4d. in 1855; that the Stade toll is injurious to the trade and shipping of the United Kingdom; that goods, the property of Hamburgh citizens and carried in Hamburgh ships, are exempt from the Stade toll, and British ships are thereby exposed to an unfair competition; that it docs not appear that any service whatever is rendered by Hanover in return for the tax levied on the commerce of Great Britain; that if the duty of 1844, by which the United Kingdom is bound for a limited period to assent to the payment of the Stade toll, were determined by notice pursuant to the terms thereof, but little injury or inconvenience would arise to the trade of this country; that it is expedient that notice should be given to terminate the treaty of 1844 with Hanover. Acting upon the recommendation of the Committee, I understand that my noble Friend the Secretary for Foreign Affairs did give notice of the termination of the treaty with Hanover; but it is said that last year, when my noble Friend was in attendance on Her Majesty, certain proposals were made to him by the Hanoverian Minister, and that he consented thereupon to withdraw that notice. Such is the view, at all events, which is taken by the Hanoverian Government, and they declare that the notice has been withdrawn. Her Majesty's Government, I believe, take a different view; but, as considerable doubt and uncertainty have arisen on the point among the persons who are interested in the trade to those parts, I wish to ask my noble Friend whether the treaty will or will not terminate on the 14th of August next, and whether he has any objection to lay on the table the correspondence which has taken place on the subject with the Hanoverian Government?


—My noble Friend has stated very correctly what took place previous to the notice being served on the Hanoverian Government of the expiration of the treaty. For obvious reasons I will abstain from expressing any opinion of my own as to the result of the termination of that treaty, and as to the consequences, whether beneficial or otherwise, to English trade. But as my noble Friend has asked me what actually took place when I had the honour of attending Her Majesty to Hanover and saw Count Platen, the Prime Minister of that country, I may inform him that having seen Count Platen on the 11th of August, before any notice was given, I stated to him that such a notice would be given in a few days, founded on a Report of the Committee of the House of Commons, and that that notice would stand good from the date on which it was served. Count Platen stated in reply that he regretted extremely on the part of the Hanoverian Government that that notice was about to be served—that he thought there was a great deal of evidence which the House of Com- mons was unacquainted with which might be adduced against terminating the treaty, and that much of the evidence taken he-fore the House of Commons was one-sided: he hoped, therefore, that I would not object to the Hanoverian Government putting in a reply to the Report of the Committee of the House of Commons. I stated to him in answer that I could not, and would not, stop the notice or withdraw it; but that if the reasons which he offered to advance should be satisfactory to Her Majesty's Government., and should refute those given by the House of Commons for abrogating the treaty, I would then withdraw the notice which would be served on him in a few days. I proceeded on my journey to Potsdam; and three days afterwards — namely, on the 14th of August—the notice was served on the Hanoverian Government by the Foreign Office. It was duly, formally, and officially received and acknowledged by the Hanoverian Government, and, therefore, I consider that it stands perfectly good from that date. Subsequently the Hanoverian Government took advantage of an expression which was made use of in a despatch alluding to the reasons which they were to give, and they attempted to construe that expression into a suspension of the notice until it should be again served. I opposed that interpretation, and I said that my conversation with Count Platen was as I have described it to your Lordships; and although he did not acquiesce in my views at the time, he privately acknowledged to Mr. Gordon that such was the case. In the short controversy which arose, my last despatch was dated on the 10th December, and the Hanoverian Government allowed that, at all events, if the notice was not good on the 14th of August, it was good on the 10th of December. That interpretation I have hitherto resisted, and shall continue to resist, as not being borne out by anything which fell from me in the conversation with Count Platen to which I have alluded. But it is really of very little consequence whether the notice should terminate three months earlier or later. My opinion, from the investigations I have made, is that the matter ought to be settled, if possible, by diplomatic means. There is no doubt that the Hanoverian Government has made charges which it has no right to make, and I hope that these charges can be brought by diplomatic means to a lower figure. The question is involved in considerable difficulty. There can be no doubt that when the treaty was signed Lord Aberdeen reserved liberty to put an end to it at twelve months' notice, and I consider this country still retains that liberty. The best course which Her Majesty's Government can pursue is, if possible, to modify these charges by diplomatic means; and I hope, therefore, that my noble Friend will defer his request that these papers should be laid on the table. If I find that the negotiation is fruitless, the treaty will cease at the date I have mentioned, and all the papers will then be laid on the table.

House adjourned at half-past Five o'clock, to Thursday next, half-past Ten o'clock.

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