§ The House having resolved itself into a Committee on the Navigation acts,
§ Mr. Wallace
said, he did not mean to 1290 enter into a review of the actual situation' of the commerce of the country, neither did he intend to describe the effects which had been produced by a transition from war to peace. They were now in a situation extremely different from that in which they were placed some years ago. They had not now the undivided empire of the sea; they could not command the navigation of the Ocean, but must be content to proceed on a fair system of competition, and to carry on their dealings under strict commercial rules. It must be evident that there was abundant ground at the present moment for making every effort in our power to assist trade and commerce. Before he came to the propositions which he meant to submit, he wished to state one object that he had in view in bringing this subject forward. Important as these propositions were, he felt that they were less important than the general purpose which he contemplated. He brought these measures forward, connected with and as parts Only of a project, the paramount importance of which every writer on the commerce of this country had acknowledged; and which had been recommended by the committee, in the chair of which he had had the honour of sitting. In consequence of that recommendation, it now devolved on him to bring the subject before the House. The object was, to simplify and consolidate, and thereby to render more beneficial, the general commercial Jaw of the country. It was intended to do this, by relieving it from a great part of that immense mass of legislation which successive centuries had heaped on it; and by removing these contrarieties and contradictions, by which almost every portion of the existing law was rendered obscure, and difficult of application. There were not much short of 2,000 laws relating to the commerce of the country. And when he added, that these acts were passed during almost every period of our history, under various circumstances, sometimes of a mercantile, and sometimes of apolitical nature, and that the principle of restriction had always predominated, and been enforced by the strongest measures, he thought it could not be deemed extraordinary, if there appeared in laws so passed, a great deal of confusion and contradiction. Many of those laws were enforced by the severe penalty of seizure and confiscation. They operated greatly to the injury of the com- 1291 merce of the country, because they checked the spirit of adventure. The revision of these laws divided itself, first, into that part of the commercial code which applied to our intercourse with foreign nations; and next, into that portion of it which applied to the intercourse carried on between different parts of the empire. This was the first great division which he wished to make; it then divided itself into the revision of laws relating to the colonies, to the fisheries, to the coasting-trade, and to the registry. Pursuing these different heads, a general consolidation of the commercial law of the country would be effected; and instead of being dispersed over the whole of the Statute-book, it might, without much difficulty, be brought together in a comparatively moderate compass. That which was doubtful would be cleared up; that which was beneficial would be retained; and that which was useless or injurious would be rejected. A system of law would thus be produced, more befitting the present situation of Europe, more liberal to foreign states, more beneficial to England, and in every respect more worthy of perhaps the greatest commercial nation that ever existed. He would, in effecting this object, lay aside all the laws that related to the production of the revenue, and those which were intended to protect particular interests. The propositions which he meant to introduce would point out distinctly how trade should be carried on; in what ships, to what places, and in what manner. The object he had in view was to enable every man to know distinctly what the law permitted, and what it prohibited; so that it would be in his power to enter into any branch of the trade of this country, unchecked by any of those apprehensions by Which be was at present beset. The apprehension that he might incur some penalty, with the existence of which he was unacquainted, but which perhaps lay darkling in the deep recesses of the Statute-book; the fear that some obscure enactment might be enforced to rob him of his profits, and consign him to ruin, paralyzed the efforts of the merchant. It was to obviate this vexatious state of the law that he was anxious to introduce the measure to which he had alluded. It was his design to give additional freedom to the shipping of England, and to extend the freedom also to the vessels of foreign states by relaxing but not departing, 1292 materially from the fundamental principle of legislation which had been acted on for centuries. Although the expansion of commerce must have been one of the most important objects of that legislation it had not succeeded to the desired extent. Every thing, he believed, had been done to encourage commerce that was in the power of those who had legislated on the subject; but, as the establishment of maritime power was deemed of much greater importance than the extension of trade, they had adopted the navigation laws. Much undoubtedly had been done in favour of commerce; but, whenever there was an opposition between commerce and navigation, commerce was always obliged to give way, and was made a sacrifice to the interests of navigation. This formed the foundation of all the navigation laws. To the general wisdom of those laws he was happy to bear testimony: at the same time he must lay it down as an established principle, that commerce and navigation were inseparably connected with each other. The only true foundation for a powerful marine, was a great, flourishing, and extensive commerce. They ought, therefore, to use their best endeavours to extend the commerce of the country, and to remove every barrier that stood in its way, by rescinding all those restrictions which could possibly be given up. He knew that there were particular cases in which those restrictions could not be removed. There were claims of justice and of protection to which parliament must undoubtedly attend. But this he must state, that every commercial restriction should have in view the preservation of our maritime power. That was the only ground of policy on which restrictions could be wisely continued. It was under these impressions that he came to the consideration of the navigation laws, as they affected the intercourse of this country with foreign states. He intended, first to consolidate, and next to amend them, by doing away certain restrictions, by affording a greater degree of freedom to the shipping of this country, and also to the vessels and commerce of foreign states. He wished to give to the commerce of foreign nations the freest possible access for the purpose of exportation from England. In short, be; was desirous of making this country the general dépôt, the great emporium of the commerce of the world.—The proposi- 1293 tions he meant to submit to the committee were three. The first measure would be a bill of general repeal, which would apply too great number of acts. The principle of the navigation laws was embodied in the 12th of Charles the 2nd, and in several acts that were founded on it. That act divided itself into the law, as it related to Europe, and as it referred to the intercourse between different parts of the British empire. As to Europe, importation was free with respect to all articles, except certain products which were known under the name of "enumerated articles." But it was necessary that the articles not prohibited should be brought from foreign countries in ships belonging to Great Britain, or else in vessels the property of the state whose produce was imported. There was another restriction under this law, by which certain articles, the manufacture of Holland and the Netherlands, could not be imported under the penalty of confiscation. It was his intention to move for the complete repeal of every act passed on this subject antecedently to the 12th of Charles 2nd. They were not much short of 200; and he would propose their repeal on the ground, either of their conflicting with the principle which governed our navigation law, or because they were rendered useless, their operation having been superseded by other enactments. With a view to this object, a very laborious examination of all the laws relating to commerce had taken place. He had availed himself of the assistance of gentlemen who were perfectly competent to the task of investigating the existing laws. When he mentioned the names of Mr. Brooke and of Sir T. Tomline, he was sure they would be recognised as individuals well known to the House for their talents. He would, in the first instance, introduce a bill to repeal the laws to the extent he had stated. He did not mean to call for the passing of it in the present session; but it should be laid on the table for the consideration of gentlemen. The measures he proposed to introduce would range themselves under three heads: first, importation; secondly, exportation; and thirdly, the laws of staple. The right hon. gentleman having completed a summary review of the navigation laws, proceeded to contend that the main object, with a view to which they had been framed, had been accomplished, namely, that of making us the greatest maritime 1294 power in the world. The importance of such an object could never be overrated. The proposition was unquestionably correct, that they who possessed the dominion of the seas, would command the commerce of the world; and to command the commerce was to command the wealth of the world. It might also be added, I that to command its wealth, was to command the world itself. He proposed, with these views, to repeal all the acts antecedent to the act of Charles 2nd, in order to remove the existing contradictions. Pie next came to the question—Whether any, and if any, what additional alterations this body of Jaws would then I require? He should suggest two: one of these, in the desire of giving additional freedom to foreign commerce; the other, with the same view towards our shipping interest. As the navigation laws at present stood, there were certain of them, by which Holland, the Netherlands, and Germany, as to a variety of articles, were absolutely excluded from our commerce: with respect to some of those articles, indeed, they were cut off from all intercourse with this country in any shape whatever. These restrictions he should propose to do away. He could consider them only as the vestiges of that ancient distrust and enmity which, he trusted, in these days existed no more. This country could no longer entertain, the same ill-will towards them. Holland, for instance, had ceased to be the object of national jealousy,—to be the emporium of the world, or the general carrier between all nations. The intended removal of certain other restrictions which were imposed upon our commerce with Russia and a part of Turkey, would have the effect, he trusted, of leaving the trade of this country with the whole of Europe infinitely more free and open than it at present was. By the bill in question he I should propose to make one or two additions only to what were called the enumerated articles of the statute of Charles 2nd; and to articles so enumerated would then be confined all the restrictions which would, for the future, be laid on the mutual commerce of Great Britain and those countries. There was another restriction which he also should propose to remove. It regarded our commerce, both with European powers and those of other continents. The enumerated articles, which he had before alluded, to could, under the existing laws, be imported into this 1295 country only in ships of the countries which such articles were the produce of, or in British bottoms. This part of the law he was desirous of repealing, considering it to be of the most vexatious operation. If a merchant, resident in any one of such countries, was desirous of exporting any article, the particular produce of it, and had a vessel in the port, but belonging to another state, he could not send it hither by that vessel, but must take up a British one, or wait till he could charter one of his own nation. This was at once vexatious and injurious to the foreign merchant, and inefficient for the purposes of our own law. The only effect of this arrangement was, to make the assortment of the cargo more tedious and inconvenient. The whole of this enactment, therefore, he proposed to do away. Another defect of the present system arose out of the division of Europe into kingdoms. It was well-known that there was a great difference in that division between the age of Charles 2nd and the present time; and the consequence was, that the law made distinctions which were perfectly unfounded. What was France in that day was not France now. Thus, goods might come from Calais, a port of France, without any interruption; which very goods, as coming from Dunkirk, now equally a port of France, were absolutely prohibited by the existing law. Could any thing be more absurd? To avoid the recurrence of similar anomalies he proposed to destroy these distinctions of countries altogether, and to substitute for them the distinctions of articles of produce. As the law now stood, the produce of Asia, Africa, and America, could only be brought to this kingdom from the ports of those continents directly. But he should suggest the alteration of this ordinance. If Asiatic produce, for instance, were shipped from a port in America, he should propose that it be permitted to be exported from America hither. After all the inquiries he had been able to make, he was perfectly convinced that the foreign' ship could not trade cheaper than the British ship; but, on the contrary, that if the British ship had only fair play, it could trade much more cheaply than the foreigner. The supposition that the cheapness of the ship affected the commerce, proved too much; and was rather fatal to the argument of those who had insisted upon that principle for, if it 1296 were true, the whole carrying trade of the north of Europe would, at that rate, be confined to ships built in that particular part of the world, where ships cost the least sums in building. The fact, however, was quite otherwise; for the carrying trade in our own and other vessels was daily making its way there. As the continuance of a state of peace furnished the only chance of a continuance of the trade with continental Europe, he should endeavour to take a security for its preservation to us: for though the advantages of that trade to the continent, generally, were great, he did not think that they were so great as that we might expect, in the event of a war, that they would suffice to ensure its continuance. The security, therefore, which he should propose to take, would be the imposition of a duty on all property imported from Africa, Asia, or America, in European vessels not being British; and this duty would be put on, not for the purpose of raising any large revenue from it; but with the view of preventing such importations from becoming an habitual trade.—There might be some difference among honourable gentlemen in regard to several of the minor points which were embraced by these measures; but, on the general principle of enabling this country to become the general dépôt of the commercial produce of the whole world as it were, no such difference of opinion could arise. This was the principle of a commercial nation's wealth, of its greatness, and its influence. To this cause might be attributed the opulence and prosperity of the commercial states of Italy in the middle ages. Those states possessed all the enterprize of commerce, and became the dépôt of the general produce of the world. The same thing might be said of Holland, which owed its rise and its advancement to these very causes, at a later period; and whose fall might be, perhaps, properly attributed to her inordinate jealousy of' that advantageous station among kingdoms. The circumstance of a nation's becoming this grand dépôt, had always been productive of beneficial effects to commerce generally. He thought it not too much to say, on this occasion, that in exact proportion to those advantages, which our becoming that dépôt would confer upon the world at large, would be the benefits that would accrue to us. It certainly did appear to have been reserved for these days to see 1297 the policy of making this country the general dépôt of commerce, and he anticipated from such a system of measures the happiest results. It was not until the year 1803 that this great principle had been at all recognized by our legislature; and then an act of parliament was passed, in which, for the first time, it seemed to be in some way affirmed. But as for the system generally to which he had been directing the attention of the House, it did appear to him that their policy, at all times an illiberal one, was a policy, the rule of which in time of peace was absolutely inapplicable. When, from, the state of the world, there were in other countries manufactures; when other states possessed ships; when other nations had capital to employ; it did appear to him monstrously absurd, that we should deprive ourselves of that great advantage which we might derive from becoming the dépôt of the world; and this, too, from the mere desire of preventing the produce of foreign countries from getting into any foreign market: as if, because we could not have the one benefit, we should deprive ourselves of the other,—the benefit of such produce coming through this country.—He should put in the clauses of his bill, the words "excepting such articles as are herein excepted;" and he would state what was the reason of that exception. If he were to exclude these words, it would appear as if he meant to prejudge the great question with respect to the transit duty bearing on certain foreign goods, particularly linens. Now, he by no means wished so to prejudge it; and therefore he thought it best to put in a special exception of this kind. He intended to propose almost an entirely new regulation of the warehouse duties and system; and for that purpose he should suggest that all goods imported into this country be divided into two classes. In the first class, he should place all those which paid the highest duties, and of the consumption of which in this country there was the greatest danger. He should propose, that all such goods be kept in warehouses of a particular description; being either in docks, or surrounded by walls; or that such goods be assigned to any certain warehouses to be specified by warrant from three lords of the Treasury. This having been done, it was his intention that goods so warehoused, should have the; advantage of being exempted from re- 1298 weighing, and liability to such allowance for deficiencies as it was customary to subject them to. The second class of goods he should propose to be placed in warehouses of a less secure description, and that, in all cases of suspicion, they should be liable to re-weighing and reexamination. He should wish an average of the deficiencies allowed under the present system to be taken; and a certain scale of allowance made for deficiencies taking place in goods deposited in warehouses the best secured: that allowance to be extended, after a proportionate rate, to goods deposited in warehouses of 3 less secure description. Upon the subject of these 'deficiencies generally, he thought that goods, in many cases, could not be exempted from the inconvenience; and in point of fact, he was not desirous that they should be; for that circumstance might operate to induce the building of such docks and warehouses as might, in time, exempt commercial men from it entirely. He was himself one of those who felt the advantages of the dock system in the highest degree, both with respect to its operation on the revenue, and to the protection from plunder which it extended to the merchant. All these advantages, however, he thought it was very possible fully to retain, and yet allow a fair competition between the docks and Stores generally. Much benefit from that competition would unquestionably accrue to the public. He should further propose, that in the bill all the regulations upon this subject, which were dispersed at present through a variety of acts, should in one single statute be brought altogether under view. He proposed by it to do away with every kind of prohibition that now existed in our commercial system Experience had proved that the principle of prohibition had no effective operation. It raised the price of the article; and yet the article under that disadvantage, and with an additional cost to cover the risk, always obtained a sale; instances were not wanting where a commodity was sought after while the prohibition existed, but of which, when the prohibition was removed, the consumption ceased. It was to be lamented that the foreign trade of this country had long laboured under very severe, burdens, which were in a high degree injurious to it; and particularly from the heavy charges to which it was subjected on account of the light and harbour dues. He 1299 had received a letter on this subject from a consul abroad; who had been much employed by foreign powers, and who stated that he knew several instances of masters of vessels, who were sailing under instructions from their owners, not to enter, under penalty of losing their employments and emoluments, any British port, excepting in cases of the most imminent peril. These instructions were given in consequence of the heavy demands which were made on foreign ships for these dues. Now, it must be apparent that in nine cases out of ten, if the near approach of what a master might consider to be imminent peril, was to be the condition of putting into a British port, these ships must be lost at sea. On every ground, therefore, both of advantage to the country and of humanity to those engaged in navigating our seas, he should propose to have these burthens removed, or alleviated as far as could be effected. Such was the outline of the propositions which he had felt it his duty to submit to the House. The right hon. gentleman concluded by moving, "That the chairman be directed to move the House for leave to bring in a bill to repeal diverse ancient statutes and parts of statutes, so far as they relate to the importation into, and the exportation from, England, of goods and merchandise from and to foreign countries;" also, "a bill to explain and amend the several acts for the encouragement and increase of shipping and navigation; and to regulate the importation of goods and merchandise into Great Britain, so far as relates to the countries from whence and the ships in which such be made:" also, "a bill to make more effectual provision for the permitting goods imported into Great Britain to be warehoused or secured without payment of duty."
§ Mr. Sykes
said, he concurred in the general view taken by the right hon. member. Tie would, however, reserve to a future period his observations upon its details. He was not so wedded to the existing "navigation laws as to oppose any amendment upon them; but he felt that any alteration ought to be matter of serious deliberation. He was aware that there existed among the shipping interest a strong feeling of alarm upon this question. It was true that the shipping interest was of great value, but of late the ship-owners derived no advantage from their ships. The right hon. member was mistaken if he 1300 imagined that British ships could compete with those of foreign countries. The fact was, that in such an event as the removal of all restriction, Holland and other countries would, from the cheapness of labour, of materials, and from other causes, be enabled to build vessels, not so good, perhaps, but sufficiently good to earn double the money, atone-half the expense.
Mr. D. Browne
thought that the repeal of the transit duties on foreign linens would be total ruin to Ireland. The counties of Armagh, Cavan and Down would be seriously injured by such a proceeding; but those counties in which grey linen was manufactured would suffer still more.
concurred fully in the measure proposed by the right hon. member. He thought that a free importation would be productive of the greatest benefit. He hoped ministers would not be deterred by ignorance or clamour from following the course which they had laid down. Many foreign merchants were now deterred from trading with us in consequence of the complication and severity of our navigation laws.
said:—Sir; wherever our navigation laws and colonial policy are the subject of discussion, they are constantly attacked by certain gentlemen, who take every opportunity to preach up the new, but delusive and dangerous doctrines, of free trade, and the abolition of all restrictions upon foreign competition. This course has been pursued on the present occasion. Those who condemn our navigation system, and apply to it the epithets of prohibitory, exclusive, and illiberal, do injustice to its true character. The leading feature of that system is, that all commodities shall be imported into Great Britain, either in a British ship or in a ship belonging to the country of which those commodities are the growth, produce, or manufacture,—a regulation founded on the most perfect justice and reciprocity, because it places the foreign ships of every country on precisely the same footing as British ships in the trade with those countries, and therefore is a principle of which no power can reasonably complain. It is certainly not favourable to the growth of our own foreign commerce, or of that opulence which arises out of it; but while it makes commercial profit a subordinate object, it lays the foundation of naval power, by securing 1301 to British-built ships, manned with British seamen, the carrying trade of all the commodities Great Britain imports from those countries who have no shipping of their own; which was the case when the navigation laws were first passed, with Asia, Africa, and America. The exceptions which have since been made in favour of America and the Brazils are not relaxations of the navigation system, but merely adaptations of it to existing circumstances, placing those countries, as soon as they had shipping of their own, on the same footing as the European powers, which possessed shipping when the navigation laws were originally passed. The great object of our ancestors in framing those laws was, to establish a belligerent navy. The first enactment on this subject is the 15th Richard 2nd, which declared "that none of the king's subjects should export or import, save in ships of the king's allegiance," and this is stated to be, "per encresir la navie ďEngleterre." The act of the 4th Henry 7th recites this object more at length, and runs thus:—"That, whereas great minishing and decay hath been now of late time, of the navy of this realm of England, and idleness of the mariners within the same, by which this noble realm, within short progress of time, without reformation to be had therein, shall not be of sufficient ability nor strength to defend itself, &c." It then orders, "that no person, inhabitant of this realm, other than merchant strangers, shall ship in any foreign vessel, out, or home, or coastwise; and that no wines or other articles shall be brought from France, but in ships whereof the king or his liege subjects are owners, and the masters and mariners of the same English, Irish, or Welch, or men of Berwick on Tweed." The first of Eliz. repealed the act of Henry 7th; but the 5th of Eliz., c. 5, revived it, and farther provided for the encouragement and extent of the fisheries. Among other regulations it enacts, "that no subject shall eat flesh meat, or otherwise than fish, on any Wednesday within the year, on pain of very heavy penalties;" adding this curious injunction, "that none shall presume to say this ordinance is for the good of the soul of man, or other than for the support of the fisheries, and the navigation of the kingdom." In the reign of Charles 2nd the great lord Clarendon completed the present system of our navigation laws, in various statutes, and engrafted upon it the colonial mo- 1302 nopoly, which has ever since been continued. Although not commercial profit but naval power, was the original object of those who framed our navigation laws, yet both have been most successfully accomplished by them, in the result. From the extent to which Great Britain has raised her manufactures and her colonial acquisitions, her imports and exports far exceed those of any power on the globe; and, under her navigation system, all her commerce with her colonies and dependencies, and those states in distant parts of the world who have no shipping of their own, is carried on exclusively in British ships manned by British seamen. The principle of this system is at once simple and comprehensive, and may be said to apply the greatest possible extent of human wisdom to the widest possible range of human action. Surely, then, we should be careful not to touch with rash hands, a system, the excellence of which has been proved by the experience of a century and a half, and under which we have attained to a degree of commercial prosperity and naval power, unprecedented in the annals of history. Those who so warmly and hastily contend for the new system of abolishing all the restrictions imposed upon foreigners by our navigation laws, remind me of an observation of lord Verulam, in his Novum Organum. His lordship says, "The understanding is naturally forward, not only to learn its knowledge by variety; but also eager to enlarge its views, by running too fast into general observations and conclusions, without a near examination of the particulars, enough whereon to found those general axioms. This seems to enlarge their stock, but it is of fancies not realities. Such theories, built upon narrow foundations, stand but weakly; and if they fall not of themselves, are at least very hard to be supported against the assaults of opposition." As the Committee on Foreign Trade justly observe in their Report, "It is impossible to calculate with certainty on all the bearings of a measure so extensive in its operations as the repeal of the navigation laws," and in recommending this sweeping experiment, they seem to have lost sight of that diffidence for which they give themselves credit. The repeal of those laws, as far as they relate to Europe, would not materially injure our carrying trade; but repealing them all over the world, and throwing open our commerce to all foreign ships, with 1303 the commodities of every part of the globe, is an innovation that Cannot be justified by sound policy. Under the new system recommended, many branches of commerce, which now begin and end here, would originate in foreign countries. At present, we make up assorted cargoes, principally with our own manufactures, but partly with foreign goods warehoused here for exportation; and import articles in return, for which our market alone offers a certain and advantageous demand. This is the case with palm-oil, gum, and dye-woods from Africa; with hides, cochineal, and tallow from South America; with cotton and indigo from India; and various other commodities from different parts of the world, for which our manufactories, furnish a constant consumption. If we permit other European nations to bring these commodities into our market through their contiguous ports, we shall encourage them to send out their own manufactures in their own ships to purchase them with; and remove the only obstacle to their enterprise, the impossibility of finding a sale for their return cargoes. We shall make this, which is now the exporting country to Europe, the importing country from Europe; and instead of British shipping having the long voyages to and from Asia, Africa, and America, they will only have the short voyages from the adjacent ports of the continent. Our commerce will be reduced to the present state of the other European powers, and theirs will be increased to the present extent of our own. In short, we shall give up the advantages our ancestors have gained for us by the navigation system. These sentiments are given in evidence before the Committee of Foreign Trade by Mr. Frewin, Mr. Buckle, Mr. Nickall, Mr. Lyall, and Mr. Blanchard, all of whom object to the repeal of the navigation laws as to Asia, Africa, and America. Mr. Bowden thinks the measure might be advantageous in time of peace, but not in time of war; and Mr. Hall, though rather in favour, of it, hesitates to give a decided opinion. The committee in their report have certainly come to a conclusion not warranted by the evidence before them.—Let us consider the effects of the measure upon our shipping and navigation. One of the most valuable parts of the evidence given before the Committee on Foreign Trade, is that which corrects the unfounded assertion contained in the Report of the Lords' Committee 1304 on the same subject that "British ships can maintain a successful competition with the shipping of every other nation," an assertion which is disproved by the very witness who endeavoured to establish it; for he was obliged to acknowledge that the British ship-owner pays taxes of near 100l. per cent on the most material articles used in the building and equipment of ships. The evidence shows the cost of ship-building in England, to be 17l. 15s. 3d. per ton; in Prussia, 9l. 19s. 4d.; and in Norway, 8l. 9s. The rate of seamen's wages, and the expense of provisions, in the Baltic, are stated to be little more than half what they are in this country: and it is proved, that they navigate their vessels with as few seamen as we do, in proportion to their tonnage. One of the witnesses states, that since our attack upon Algiers has obtained for all the other European powers the same protection from Algerine capture as we before exclusively enjoyed, they have completely supplanted us in the carrying trade between the different ports M the Mediterranean, and between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, which till then gave employment to 700 or 800 sail of British ships, and 10 or 12,000 British seamen, but now employs none. In like manner, the trade between this country and America, is carried on almost exclusively in American ships, it is highly important to bear in mind, that at some future period we must be again engaged in war. We shall then have no nursery for seamen, and our maritime power must be transferred to those nations who will have become possessed of over carrying trade. Thus the result of the proposed measure will be, the ruin of our naval greatness; which will decline gradually in time of peace, but suddenly in time of war. In the former state, we shall die by inches; in the latter, we shall be put out of our pain at once. We are placed in an artificial state of society, and this must be taken into account in all our calculations. I admit that, upon general principles, all commercial restrictions and prohibitions appear to be prejudicial, and that if we had a new state of things to form, we ought to adopt the most unlimited freedom of commercial intercourse. By these means, every nation would be enabled to import those commodities which it does not produce, at the cheapest possible rate; and would direct its own industry to those productions for 1305 which its soil, its climate, or the genius and habits of its inhabitants are best calculated. The taxes necessarily raised to pay the interest of our national debt, enter into the price of labour, and every thing that is produced by labour, and make it impossible for us to maintain a successful competition with foreigners who are not subjected to the same taxation. I have shown this to be the case with the British ship-owners. It is severely felt and loudly declared by the British agriculturists; and is equally true of our manufacturing classes, except where particular local circumstances enable them to counterbalance this disadvantage. We have to consider how our colonial interests would be affected, by the adoption of this new system. At present, our colonies trade with Great Britain alone; they are bound to take every thing from her, and send every thing to her, in British ships; she giving them in return, for this double monoply, a preference of the home consumption of their produce in her market. The committee, in their Report, talk of preserving the supply of our colonial possessions with British manufactures under this new system; but surely this must have been written without due consideration. But if on the principle of buying every thing where it can be bought cheapest, and taking off all restrictions merely protective against foreign competition, you deprive them of the protection they now enjoy in the home consumption of your market, it will be impossible for them to exist; restriction and protection must go together: either both must be continued, or both abandoned. The colonies must have the same privilege of free trade, in the purchase of their supplies, which you claim in the purchase of your produce; and under the same free trade, must be allowed to find other markets for that produce which you repudiate. Here then it becomes highly important to consider the consequences of destroying the present system. Mr. Burke, speaking of the advantages of the commerce of Great Britain with her colonies, says, "Fiction Jags after truth; invention is unfruitful, and imagination cold and barren;" and the facts amply bear him out in this assertion. Under the present system, your West India colonies, containing a population of less than a million, are far more valuable to you than your East India dependencies, with a population of 100 millions. The former annually consume your 1306 manufactures to the amount of 6 or 7 millions: the latter only to the amount of 2 millions. The former, in their direct trade to the mother country, and their trade to the British provinces in North America, employ 1,000 sail of shipping, and more than 20,000 British seamen; the latter not 200 sail of shipping, and about 6,000 British seamen. The former are allowed to manufacture nothing, not even to refine their own sugar; the latter manufacture not only for their own use, but their manufactures come into competition with yours, in every part of the globe. This comparison shows the advantages of the present over the intended new system, under which you would enjoy no greater proportion of the commerce of your own colonies, than you now do of any other colonies, having a free trade. Cuba is one of that description, and not more than one twentieth part of her commerce is carried on with Great Britain. Nothing is more specious than the idea of a free trade; but the advocates for this free trade, though ready enough to make our trade free to foreigners, have never shown how the trade of foreigners is to be made free to us. They call upon us to set the example of this liberal system, whether other nations follow it or not; that is, to give without the certainty of receiving any thing in return; a system, which they would not find it their interest to adopt as individuals, and which, upon the same principle, I cannot consider as likely to be attended with any benefit to us as a nation. Commerce has been defined to be an exchange of equivalents; but this new commerce is to be founded on the opposite doctrine of no equivalent. It is to be a sort of what I have heard called Irish reciprocity, or reciprocity all on one side. At present, our own domestic consumption and that of our colonies and dependencies, secure us great advantages and an immense carrying trade, all which we are desired to open to foreigners, for the chance of what they may be pleased to give us in return; but before we accede to this proposition, we ought in common prudence to be satisfied, both as to what they can give and what they will give. Much stress is laid upon the advantages we are to derive from other nations being influenced by our example, of adopting a more liberal system; but in point of fact they have little to offer in return for that immense commerce of ours, which it 1307 is so important an object to them to participate. This plan of an equal distribution of commerce, is something like that of an agrarian distribution of land; very suitable to the desires and interests of those who are poor, but very unsuitable to those who are rich: and therefore, we who are rich in commerce, are the last persons with whom such a proposal ought to originate.—Granting them however, for the sake of argument, the ability, how stands their disposition to make an adequate return to this country? On this point, we may form our judgment from their conduct towards us since the peace, which happily accomplished the deliverance of Europe, at an expense of not less than 800 millions of our money. The emperor of Austria, who appears determined not to repay us the money we lent him, has totally prohibited all our manufactured goods throughout his dominions, burns them whenever they are found, as fiercely as ever Buonaparté did in the days of his most furious wrath against this country, and has extended this system to those Italian states which, through our assistance, he was enabled to add to his territories at the end of the war. The emperor of Russia has laid such high duties on our coarse woollens, except those which are contracted for to clothe his own troops, as almost amount to a prohibition: he has also totally prohibited our woollens of every description from passing through his dominions in transitu; and thus has deprived us of a large and increasing sale for them, in China and Persia, through Tartary; and has given a monopoly of that trade to the woollens of Prussia. He has also made a new distinction in his tariff of duties, between sugars clayed in Europe and in every other part of the world; by which means he has excluded our crushed lumps, and given the supply of his dominions to the clayed sugars of Cuba and the Brazils. France has rejected our propositions for establishing a more liberal system; and all our attempts to form a commercial treaty with her have proved abortive. The king of Sweden has prohibited the use of almost every article of British manufacture in his dominions. The king of Sardinia, whose Italian states were restored to him by British aid, has laid such high duties on British goods as almost amount total prohibition; and although Genoa was annexed to his dominions, by a treaty which guaranteed to her all her 1308 ancient laws, and privileges, in defiance of that treaty, he has deprived her of her roost valuable privilege, that of being the emporium for the transit of British goods into the neighbouring Italian states. Spain, since the establishment of the new government, has adopted a prohibitory system, which almost annihilates our commercial intercourse with that country. Surely we must be unwise indeed, with these proofs of their indisposition to serve us, to place ourselves in their power and at their mercy! This system of free trade is subject to other very strong objections. Great commercial changes are always attended with serious mischief; because the spirit of enterprize and speculation overstocks every new market. Most of us recollect the ruin that attended the sudden opening of the trade at Buenos Ayres; and we all have before us the more recent instance of the private trade to India. If the trade of the whole world were thrown open, in the manner recommended by our new political economists, the rage for speculation would be boundless, the revolutions in property unprecedented, and the ruin incalculable. But these are the days of innovation and revolution, which, after making experiments upon politics for many years past, seem now to be trying their hands upon commerce. Some men; are so prone to change, that they consider all change as an improvement. Commercial men, in particular, to whose speculations the war gave ample scope, find themselves circumscribed in peace; and many of them are eager to adopt any experiment that may again open a wider field to their spirit of adventure. The state of things in which we are now placed, reminds me of a jeu ďesprit of the late professor Porson, who happening to cut out at whist, the lady of the house told him he should write some verses, while the rest of the party were playing. He asked her for a subject; and she suggested that he should suppose the devil was taking a walk on earth, to see what we were about, and write his observations. Among the verses composed by the professor on that occasion, are the following:—With wind and with tide,Down the river did glide,A pig with vast celerity;And the devil he grinned, for he saw all the while,How it cut its own throat, and said with a smile,This is England's commercial prosperity.1309 What the professor predicted is now coming to pass; for we are certainly cutting the throat of our commercial prosperity, and the devil, who delights in mischief, may well grin at our present proceedings. We must not flatter ourselves that we can go a certain length in this new career, and then stop. If we once concede the principle, we must abide by it uniformly. Nothing can be more absurd, than to suppose that two opposite systems can be acted upon at the same time. To adopt a course of measures half liberal and half exclusive, would be taking one step forward and another backward, instead of going strait on. If we take off the protecting duties on foreign timber, and relax our navigation laws, how can we object to take off the restrictions upon foreign corn? To prohibit the import of cheap foreign corn in order to force the consumption of dear English corn, would not only be a violation of the new principle of taking oft all restrictions upon foreign competition, but also of the great rule to buy every thing where it can be bought cheapest. Besides, the price of corn regulates the price of labour, and of every thing that is produced by labour; and if our manufacturers are to compete with foreign manufacturers, they must be fed at as cheap a rate. Are the landed interest prepared to go this length? Will they deduct from their rentals the twenty or thirty millions per annum, which the British consumers pay them for the produce of their land more than they could purchase it for from Foreigners? If not, let them adhere to the old, and oppose the new system, which must inevitably lead to this result. Let us reflect what our situation would be, if this new system of liberal commerce as it is called, were acted upon to the fullest extent. Our land-owners would be ruined; for their land would not pay the expense of cultivation, and of course a great proportion of our agricultural labourers would be thrown out of employment. Our carrying trade would fall into the hands of those foreign powers who can build and navigate ships cheaper than ourselves; and as we should no longer have any nursery for seamen, our naval power would of course be transferred to our more fortunate competitors. One half of our manufacturers would be ruined, being undersold by their foreign rivals. Not less than two millions of our agricultural and manufacturing population would be deprived of their pre- 1310 sent employment, and thrown upon their respective parishes, together with their wives and families. Add the expense of their maintenance to the cost of the foreign commodities purchased under this new system, and you will then see whether they would be cheap or dear. The impossibility of supporting these ruined classes, and at the same time raising the revenue necessary to pay the interest of the national debt, and the expenses of our public establishments, could terminate in nothing less than a national bankruptcy and a revolution; and this would be the conclusion of the whole matter. I trust therefore that the House will not sanction the repeal of the navigation laws, which I consider ness and our glory.
§ Mr. Serjeant Onslow
was in favour of the proposed bills. He thought the picture drawn by his hon. friend, of our commerce, under such regulations as were now proposed, was too gloomy.
§ Mr. Hume
said, he was surprised at hearing the opinions delivered by the hon. member. That a gentleman of his great commercial experience should be at this time the advocate of exclusive trade, was, indeed, a matter of no little surprise. He considered the measures proposed by the right hon. gentleman as most salutary; and he felt convinced, that if they were carried into full effect, they would materially improve the commerce of the country, and prevent our being viewed, as we were at present, with jealousy by every country in Europe. He thought that, with our capital, the proposed alterations must give us the advantage over every other country.
agreed that it would be well if Great Britain removed all restrictive regulations on trade, provided other nations did the same; but until that took place he doubted the expediency of going the full length of the resolutions.
§ The Resolutions were then agreed to.