§ Mr. M. A. Taylor
said, the House would recollect, on his submitting a motion to them for the appointment of a select committee to inquire into the state of the Trade of Newfoundland, he had mentioned, as the ground of the motion, the heavy distress which that trade was labouring under, from difficulties of a pecuniary nature, and the melancholy state of the island of Newfoundland itself, in consequence of the difficulties of the traders. He had stated that a large population were actually in a state of famine,—that the warehouses of the merchants were broken into by a starving people,—that the capital was in such a state that it was impossible to afford any protection to property,—and that unless some relief should be afforded by the House and by the government of the country to this calamity, the horrors of the ensuing winter would be aggravated in an inconceivable degree. A committee had accordingly been appointed, and no person could read the report without agreeing that the circumstances detailed in it went much beyond any thing he had previously stated to the House. The evidence before the committee was given by merchants of great eminence—men who had great capital employed in the trade. One unanimous determination ran through the evidence of every merchant, that unless the House gave them some relief, the losses in carrying on the trade were so great that they could no longer continue their capital in it. It was necessary to tell the House that Newfoundland in itself was totally unproductive-—that its whole supply, excepting the article of fish, was carried out from this country. Formerly, there was hardly any resident population on the island. 1294 The merchants sent out vessels from this country which conveyed the persons employed in catching and curing the fish, and their sustenance, and they returned again in winter. The only people left in Newfoundland were a few to take care of the apparatus for curing, &c. all the rest returned to England; so that the population of Newfoundland bore then no proportion to what it was at present. In the course of time it was found necessary to have middlemen resident on the island, who were called planters. These persons caught the fish and cured it, and bartered it with the merchant for such articles as were necessary for the supply of their wants. In process of time, these planters increased greatly in number. The population now amounted to 80,000 persons. It would be seen in the evidence that last winter men who formerly gained an honest livelihood by their industry, were seen in the streets living by plunder. They entered almost all the storehouses belonging to the merchants, and plundered them of whatever they could find in them. For months the population were suffering from a state of misery almost unexampled in the history of the world. The merchants who had their storehouses broken into, were determined this year not to send out any stores, while the island was in such a state that no protection could be given to their property. The consequence would be, that next winter the population must die by hunger, unless government, by employing transports to carry out provisions to them, should afford some relief to that wretched country. The trade with Newfoundland was very extensive. Mr. Kemp, of Pool, stated to the committee, that ha had a capital of 60,000l. employed in the trade; that he lost last year 20,000l., and that he should lose the same sum this year; and therefore it was impossible for hint any longer to carry on so ruinous a trade. What, it would be asked, could be done with this starving population? But he would ask in return, were these people, because the trade was not so thriving as to induce merchants to continue their capitals in it, to be left to all the horrors of famine? The merchants requested that 5,000 of the population might be removed by government. If that number were removed, they thought they could find employment for the rest. The merchants said they could not meet the French in the European market; that the fishing part of Newfoundland had been conceded 1295 by treaty to France; that the French government were exerting themselves by bounties to support the trade. Our merchants in the Spanish ports laboured under a duty which amounted almost to a prohibition. Murat, when he was sovereign of Naples, levied a duty on the fish imported into his states, for the purpose of ransoming slaves in Algiers; the present king of Naples, though placed there by our arms, had increased that duty. So that our merchants had not only to cope with the French bounty, but with the Spanish and Neapolitan duties. It was for the House to say, whether for the sake of any temporary circumstances like these they would give up the trade altogether, which the merchants said they could not possibly continue without assistance. The trade enployed not less than 6,000 seamen; and 800 vessels went out to Newfoundland every year. He should merely move at present, that the report be now taken into consideration; but it was his intention afterwards to move in a committee of the whole House, to take into consideration the propriety of granting 2s. a quintal bounty on all fish caught and cured in the Island of Newfoundland.
said, that when a case of great distress was laid before the House, it was not a very agreeable task to object to any specific proposition for relieving it. But, he should ill discharge his duty, if he did not state to the House the grounds on which he considered this proposition to be an ill advised one. The hon. gentleman only recommended a bounty to be given for one year. The merchants did not want the bounty for one year, they wanted it for a term co-existent with the duration of the French bounty; and they wanted the removal of at least 15 or 20,000 persons. But where were these persons to be sent to? The far greater part of them came from Ireland. But there were cases of distress in Ireland at this moment infinitely beyond any thing that had been reported of Newfoundland. Were they to be sent home to Ireland, to be supported there, God knows how? Were they to be sent to Canada and Nova Scotia? The harvest was very bad there last year; and it would only be aggravating the distress in Canada to send them there. Government were asked to do in this case more than perhaps it would have been wise to undertake. If the merchants moved 1,000 of the people to Canada, government agreed 1296 to find subsistence for them there for one year, and to give them lands to settle on. But the merchants rejected this offer as a perfect joke, and refused to listen to any proposition by government, unless they would go the length of the bounty co-existent with the French bounty, and remove 15 or 20,000 of the population. The trade was of so fluctuating a nature, that one year on a capital of 60,000l. a profit of 22,000l. was made, and another year a loss was experienced of 20,000l. During last war, the trade acquired an artificial prosperity, and if they attempted to support it by means of bounties, the evil would be aggravated two-fold. This would only have the effect of increasing the population. Under these circumstances he could not consent to the motion.
§ Mr. W. Douglas
was favourable to the motion. The distressed people must have employment if possible, otherwise they must be left to starve.
, although he admitted, to as great an extent as any one, the wisdom of the generally received principles of political economy regarding bounties, thought there were grounds laid in the report sufficient to warrant a slight departure from them in this instance. He did not think that we should enter into a contest with France in a line of promoting commerce by means confessedly impolitic; but he confessed that, in his opinion, the report had made out sufficient grounds for granting assistance for one year, at least to those engaged in this trade.
§ Mr. Newman
would support a grant to these sufferers, but he thought relief in the shape of a bounty was not the most eligible course.
§ Mr. Protheroe
said, that a strong case of distress and threatened famine was made out; and if ministers, after being warned of the evils that might ensue, took no means to guard against them, and to protect these unhappy people from starvation, they would incur a heavy responsibility.
§ Mr. F. Lewis
was aware that the question here could properly be nothing but one of humanity, and he could not but regret that it was attempted to be introduced under the protection of some mistaken principles of political economy that were now universally exploded. The method in which the relief sought was to be applied, was by giving a bounty to encourage the trade—a policy now universally condemned. If the question was purely one of humanity, it should have 1297 been stated as such; and then the only inquiry that it would have led to was, what was the number and the distress of the sufferers, and what sum of money, or quantity of goods, would afford the necessary relief? It was stated, that if we did not support this trade by a bounty, we should be deprived of it; but if it could not support itself otherwise than by a bounty, it must be a losing concern, and the sooner we lost it the better. Then there was the argument about its being a nursery for seamen, an argument that had borne on its back the impolitic regulations of centuries, and that was always at hand to sanction every unwise measure proposed for extending our commerce. All kinds of trade were nurseries and consumers of seamen as well as this, and the same argument might be brought for giving bounties, if necessary, to our West and East India trade. The real ground on which this application could be defended was that of humanity; and the only question was, could this country, so much oppressed with taxation, pay taxes for supporting the population of Newfoundland; and was government the only source from which relief to that island could be administered? He could not answer to the affirmative of this question; and he thought if relief was to be afforded it should come from the voluntary contribution of benevolence, and not from the resources of the government. If a subscription were proposed, he was sure that the merchants, and other benevolent individuals, would come forward, as they had done on other occasions, to the assistance of the sufferers; but he could not agree to raise taxes on this distressed country, to remove distress at a distance.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
agreed, that this question was purely one of humanity; and that the only thing to be considered was, what relief could be granted, and how the grant could be most beneficially applied. He did not think that relief should be administered in the way of bounty to the trade, as much more direct methods of applying any assistance to the suffering inhabitants easily occurred. He had heard it stated, that government was obliged to support the people of that colony. But government did not encourage their emigration, and could not be accountable for their fate. Every mode of relieving their sufferings, however, would be resorted to government had already extended relief 1298 to the sufferers by the fire of St. John's; and was still disposed to make farther exertions, as soon as they knew, from local suggestions, how much farther assistance would be necessary, or how it could be best applied. The dangers of famine were said to threaten the population of Newfoundland, but he believed that might be warded off by the abundance of fish which they could command. He objected to the bounty, as its effects would be only to enable other nations, who imposed a duty on our imported fish, to increase that duty, and thus make the people of this country pay their taxes.
thought that, in case of such distress, our finances were not so exhausted as to prevent us from extending relief, if only 65,000l. was the sum demanded. In the principles of political economy which had been stated, he perfectly concurred, and rejoiced to see that the commerce of the country, after being so long subjected to impolitic regulations, was now likely to be governed on wiser and more liberal maxims. He was of opinion that no trade that could not support itself should be encouraged by a bounty: but if there was to be any exception, this was a proper case for making it. The Newfoundland trade, more than any other, was connected with our naval power, from its being a nursery for hardy and adventurous seamen.
§ The House divided: Ayes, 29; Noes, 50.