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States with freights from third foreign ports, whence they could not have brought freights at all under the old law: 10,000 tons of British shipping left New York alone for China, the first voyages to that country that British ships ever made from United States ports. Though our American rivals had no doubt contended stoutly for the Indian trade, our tonnage in that trade increased: the tonnage outwards had been, in 1848,458,128; in 1850,522,056; in 1851, 562,495. Mr. Lindsay had launched nine new ships in the past year, of from 800 to 1200 tons burden; he had had them built by contract as the Americans do, and had for the first time made his captains partners in the concern. Mr. Duncan of Dunbar, who feared utter rum to his 15,000 tonsof shipping, was now the enviable holder of 30,000 tons. Mr. Wigram, instead of being driven abroad from the Thames with all his capital and skill, had established a new building-yard at Southampton, and was building at a greater rate than ever. Shipwrights were full of work; and it was impossible to find a shipbuilder who would bind himself to supply a ship at any certain time.
Every class must be allowed its prescriptive right to grumble. Very likely old and second-rate ships found less patronage; but men would hardly be pushing to a gigantic development a branch of trade that was only leading them to ruin.
Lord Granville expressed himself gratified that not one word bad fallen from Lord Stanley which could delude the shipowners into the fallacious notion that there was the slightest hope of a return to the system from which the country had departed. In reference to the
conversion of other countries to our more liberal policy, that event could not be expected with such rapidity while a great party, with a great leader at its head, was constantly insisting that our new policy was ruining the country; but for us, patience would be the best policy. Retaliatory measures might in some instances do ourselves injury; though it might become the duty of Government to consider whether at some self-sacrifice it ought not to use the coercive powers intrusted to it by Parliament.
The Earl of Hardwicke presented petitions from various parts, complaining of the repeal of the Navigation Laws, and, after complimenting Lord Granville on his able speech, declared that he had never heard a statement so little calculated to restore confidence to a drooping interest. It appeared that Government would do all that it could for the shipowners in the way of negotiation, but it would do nothing else. The noble Lord dwelt at some length on the decay of the shipping interest, and concluded by warning the House of the decay of our maritime force.
Earl Grey defended the Ministerial policy, and, after a few words from Lord Colchester, the petition was ordered to lie on the table.
Another attempt to obtain a reconsideration of the question of the Navigation Laws was made at a later period of the session, in the House of Commons, by Mr. Herries, who entered at length into the subject in an elaborate speech replete with statistical details. The hon. Member began by calling attention to the case of the shipowners, who complained loudly of the great reduction which had been occasioned by the Act of 1849 in the rate of freights, whereby their business was rendered to a great extent unremunerative. He produced a tabular statement showing that an average reduction had taken place of not less than 30 per cent, in the freights of vessels trading from various foreign ports to those of England. Mr. Herries then adduced evidence from Parliamentary returns, to show that, whereas,from theyear 1842 to 1849, there had been a nearly proportionate increase of British and foreign tonnage inwards and outwards, in 1850 there had been a decrease in the tonnage of British ships inwards, as compared with the preceding year, of 184,000 tons, and outwards of 43,000; while, on the other hand, there had been an increase of foreign tonnage inwards to the extent of 548,000 tons, and outwards of 406,000. Comparing the returns of 1850 with the average of the three preceding years, Mr. Herries stated the result to be to the disadvantage of British shipping inwards to the extent of 414,000 tons, and outwards of 578,000 tons, as compared withforeignshipping. Healso cited Lloyd's Register to prove an actual decrease since the repeal of the Navigation Laws in the amount of British shipping. He complained that since that Act passed, no steps had been taken by the Government to give effect to that clause, commonly called the Retaliatory Clause, by which the Queen in Council is empowered to adopt countervailing measures towards foreign countries refusing to reciprocate the privileges held out to them by England. Mr. Herries considered that our Government had begun at the wrong end in removing the restrictions imposed by the Navigation Laws, without first being assured of a reciprocal
policy towards ourselves from foreign nations. As it had turned out, other countries had shown little disposition to reciprocate our liberality. With the exception of Sweden, Denmark, and the northern States of Europe, which had an obvious interest in such a relaxation, almost every nation had kept aloof from us. Belgium, Prussia, France, Spain, Portugal, and America, had all declined to imitate our example. The United States, notwithstanding the liberal assurances held out to us originally by Mr. Bancroft, had maintained their own restrictive system. For this, indeed, Mr. Herries, entertaining the views he held on the subject, did not blame them, and the result of their policy was exhibited in the more rapid increase of American shipping, as compared with British, for some years past. It had been alleged by the advocates of the new system, that there had been no falling off, but rather an increased activity, in ship-building in the last year; but to this allegation Mr. Herries opposed the petition lately presented by himself, which bore the signatures of some of the largest shipbuilders in the country, and which stated the fact of an unexampled depression in their business. It was an additional hardship upon the British shipowner, that, while he was unprotected against foreign competition, he was subject to the burthensome condition of being obliged to man his vessels with a certain proportion of British seamen. Such a condition was plainly at variance with the free-trade doctrine of resorting to the cheapest market for everything. In conclusion, Mr. Herries cited an observation which had been made, at the time when the Act of 1849 was under discussion, by a distinguished American statesman, to the effect "that when England consummated that act of her commercial revolution, she dug the grave of her political power." He ended by moving an Address to the Crown, praying that measures might be adopted pursuant to the clause referred to in the Act of 12 & 13 Vict. cap. 29, for countervailing the disadvantages to which the British shipowner was now exposed.
Mr. Labouchere encountered Mr. Hemes' arguments by others of a directly opposite description.
He began by reminding Mr. Hemes, that he himself had been assailed by exactly similar representations when he was associated with Mr. Huskisson's reciprocity measures. He also quoted recent speeches by Mr. George Frederick Young, evincing that gentleman's hostility to reciprocity, and therefore his antagonism to Mr. Herries. Mr. Labouchere showed that there had been a corresponding decrease for 1850 in the exports and imports of the United States: but it was idle to take single years. The lowering of freights was explained by the fact, that the removal of restrictions on trading with third countries enabled vessels which made voyages in ballast to diminish the cost by carrying cargoes in that part of their voyage. The British Consul at Philadelphia, in a dispatch of the 12th of May, 1851, stated that out of 111 British ships entering the port in 1850, 18 came from a third country, which they could not have done before the repeal of the Navigation Laws. In the first four months of 1851, out of 50 British vessels entering Philadelphia, 15 brought cargoes from foreign ports
—from Cuba, Porto Rico, Pernambuco, Cadiz, and Palermo. He added — "Vessels from British America, which, after disposing of their cargoes of fish in the West Indies, generally came to this country in ballast, now bring sugar and molasses, and then return homewards with cargoes of breadstuffs." Mr. Labouchere thought the House would at once see how important the new trade was which had been given to the British shipping, by doing away with the absurd restrictions upon our trading with the United States. He could multiply cases, but it was unnecessary.
But for the relaxing of those restrictions, we should have lost the trade with California—a great and increasing trade. He saw that in one month no fewer than 1 8 ships had arrived from Australia with cargoes for San Francisco. Statistical returns established the fact, that the progress of shipbuilding continued; although there was some diminution in numbers, the average tonnage was larger. Already considerable progress had been made with negotiations for reciprocal treaties: we had obtained reciprocity with the Baltic powers, Holland, Sardinia, and the United States, and negotiations were at that very time proceeding with France, Spain, and Belgium.
Mr. G. F. Young followed up Mr. Hemes' arguments, but carried them still further in favour of absolute restriction. He stated it to be the fact that in 1850,1100 ships had left the United States for California, many of them with the intention of taking away our Eastern trade.
Mr. James Wilson supported Mr. Labouchere in an argumentative speech, which he fortified by
a considerable amount of statistical details.
Mr. Disraeli, after ridiculing the announcement that negotiations were proceeding with so small a number as three foreign States, admitted, at the same time, that the fact opposed a difficulty in the way of the present motion.
Ministers had announced, that under the clause in question they were engaged in active negotiations with three powers. Under these circumstances, he did not see how his right hon. friend the Member for Stamford could press to a division a motion which might interfere with those negotiations. Such being the case, he thought his right hon. friend, having obtained a full discussion of the question—(Cries of " Oh, oh! ") He had no doubt that gentlemen on the back benches of the Ministerial side of the House, who were not in office, and therefore not responsible, were prepared for anything, even for interference with negotiations now in progress; but the Opposition had some responsibility. Therefore, when the Government virtually stated that the proposed amendment would interfere with negotiations with three powers, he could not see how, after that, the amendment could be proceeded with, and he hoped his right hon. friend would not press his amendment to a division.
Lord John Russell indulged in some sarcastic remarks upon this sudden discovery of an insuperable difficulty in the way of the motion. The noble Lord expressed his concurrence with those who had vindicated the policy of the Act of 1849.
Colonel Thompson declared his
opinion, that this outcry for pro
. tection meant nothing else than
this—that a bonus should be given to the producer at the cost of the consumers, who were the taxpayers of this country. As for retaliation upon foreigners, it was like what was called, in vulgar phrase, cutting off one's nose to spite one's face. There was a two-fold benefit arising from freedom of trade: there was the benefit of receiving his productions from the foreigner, which we enjoyed; and there would be the other benefit, if the foreigner would agree to accept it, of sending our productions to him. Because we could not obtain the latter of these benefits, we were asked by Mr. Herries and his friends to deprive ourselves of the former.
. The motion of Mr. Herries was then, by leave, withdrawn.
•An account has been given in the second chapter of this volume of the motion of Mr. Locke King at the beginning of the session, for leave to bring in a Bill to assimilate the franchise in counties to that of boroughs, and of the signal defeat sustained by the Government, by a majority of 100 against 52 in favour of the motion.
Mr. Locke King brought in his Bill pursuant to the leave thus given, and moved the second reading on the 2nd of April. He observed that the position of the advocates of the measure was greatly improved by the division which had taken place, amounting to nearly 2 to 1 in favour of the principle. Even Lord John Russell had acknowledged the deficiencies of the Reform Act, and Sir James Graham, after being present at the discussion, had abstained from voting. The duty of legislating on the subject, Mr. King considered to be urgent. The House had not even an outline of the plan contemplated by the Ministry, and unless that plan were an extensive one, it would not satisfy the country. Mr. King read statements, showing that while the constituencies of the boroughs had increased, those of the counties had diminished, and he urged the House to assent to a measure founded on just principles, moderate in its extent, and simple in its provisions.
Mr. P. Howard supported the Bill.
Mr. F. Maule hoped Mr. King would not press this measure, which, he admitted, had been undertaken by him bond fide. He concurred in what had been said by Lord J. Russell, that the class comprehended by the Bill was perfectly worthy to enjoy the franchise; he believed that the time had come when an extension of the franchise might be conceded; and the noble Lord had most distinctly given the House and the country to understand that, had not other measures of importance intervened, he should have introduced this session a measure for the improvement of the Reform Act. He deprecated a bit by bit system of reform; he warned Reformers that their measures could be carried only by union among themselves, and that there was a party in that House which did not recognise the necessity of reform, and was opposed to the party by which measures of reform had been carried. He asked them to place themselves under the banner of one who had led them to the greatest of those measures, and from whom they could not withdraw their confidence without postponing further reform for an indefinite period.
Sir Benjamin Hall was inclined to accept the pledge now so dis
tinctly given, and leave the matter in the hands of the Government. A majority of the House had affirmed the principle of the Bill, and he thought it would be unwise to force on a division which, judging from the aspect of the House, it was evident would be adverse to the Bill.
Mr. Bright had listened to the speech of Mr. Maule with considerable satisfaction; but Lord John Russell, he remarked, had not indulged the House with anything so distinct. He had admitted that the class was entitled to the franchise, but had, at the same time, suggested constitutional reasons why a franchise suited for boroughs was not suited to counties. He (Mr. Bright) thought the House might discuss this Bill in order to see whether it should not form part of the proposed general measure. This was not a question of principle, as regarded the suffrage, but merely one of limit. If the noble Lord would frankly say what kind of proposition he intended to submit to the House — whether large and generous, or small and peddling—and give some outline of the principles upon which it would be founded, he had no objection to the Bill being withdrawn, or even negatived, on the express understanding that the question would be considered in a generous spirit.
Mr. Clay, Colonel Romilly, Mr. Pigott, and other members, joined in advising Mr. Locke King not to press for a division. Mr. Hume dissented from this view. He said he had been too long in the House to trust to Ministerial professions. They had been called upon to unite, but who had divided the Reformers but Her Majesty's Ministers? Mr. T. Dun