Hnh ảnh trang

It is impossible to observe the course of the debates, which occarred during this session, on commercial policy, without remarking the rapid progress which sound and liberal views had made in the minds of all parties: and these questions, the discussion of which had, in former times, called forth nothing but violent prejudice and invective, were now the points, on which ministers, and the more enlightened of their opponents, approached most nearly to perfect coincidence of senti


Though the wild and visionary schemes of Mr. Maxwell and lord Stanhope did not meet with much attention, some very interesting discussions took place upon the means of reviving our internal industry, by removing some of the restrictions which we had imposed on our foreign trade. Petitions from various manufacturing districts for the removal of these restrictions were laid upon the table of the House. In presenting that of the merchants of London on the 8th of May, Mr. Baring entered into the subject at great length; and, after illustrating several general principles, recommended specifically to do away with all enactments that were absolutely prohibitory, to revise our navigation laws, to repeal the wool-tax, to facilitate the transit trade in, German linens, to permit the importation of timber from the north of Europe on the same footing as from North America, and to remove the restraints on the trade with China. Mr. F. Robinson candidly admitted both the soundness of the general principles adranced by Mr. Baring, and the correctness of his application of VOL. LXII.

them to the particular instances' which he had mentioned. He declared himself an enemy to the restrictive system, which he conceived to be founded in error, and calculated to defeat its own object. But it now involved so many interests, that it could be departed from only gradually; and it had taken such deep root in the public mind, and had enlisted so many prejudices in its favour, that, even where it could be abandoned safely, and without delay, it was difficult to persuade men to give it up.

Mr. K. Finlay (May 16th), in presenting a petition from the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce, similar in its prayer to that of the merchants of London, placed, in a strong point of view, the effect of our restrictions on the trade with China. Suppose, said he, a British merchant and an American one to be at the same time in London, and each of them to receive intelligence from the East, that a new opening for a certain portion of our manufactures had just presented itself in that quarter-the difference in their situation would be truly astonishing. Secrecy and despatch were the two most essential things on every occasion of this kind. The American might engage a vessel of perhaps 150 or 200 tons, and, having purchased his goods, despatch it in the course of a week to the East Indies. The English merchant must first repair to counsel, and, having acquainted himself with the law of the matter, apply to the Company for a licence for his vessel, and a licence for his supercargo. With regard to the latter, he was always obliged to wait a month before he got an answer from the directors. [G]

[ocr errors]

When he obtained it, he might find that the licence was refused, and then he was under the necessity of applying to the board of control. If, after a consider able lapse of time, and a full disclosure of his plans, he obtained it from the board of commissioners, he could not ship his goods in any vessel of less than 350 tons burden. Could any merchant embark in the trade, subject to all this expense and delay, without courting his own destruction? Though he had opposed these regulations, when they were first brought forward, he was not inclined to deprive the East-India Company of what had been solemnly granted to them. But he hoped that the Company would consent to the relaxation of a system, which was so injurious to the prosperity of the country, and was calculated to promote not even their own interests, but those of the private foreign trader.

Mr. Finlay also urged the repeal of the usury laws, the revision of our revenue laws, particularly that part of them which related to extents in aid, and also of our bankrupt system, and the removal of some of the imposts on the importation of foreign commodities. He concluded with expressing his conviction, that other countries (with the exception perhaps of France) would not recover from their embarrassments more speedily than our selves, and that, in our principal manufactures, we should still be able to beat down all competition. The country was already in a course of progressive improvement. Our commerce and manufactures were reviving; the situation of the labouring classes

was ameliorated; they were beginning again to enjoy the comforts of which the scantiness of their wages had for a time deprived them, and they were returning into their former habits of tranquillity and subordination from the infatuated delusion into which they had wandered.

The petitions for commercial freedom, and the favourable ear with which parliament seemed inclined to listen to them, had already excited alarm in some of those who had, or conceived they had, an interest in an opposite line of policy. The shipowners, in particular, expressed great dread of the effects of admitting timber from the Baltic, and, having held a meeting, agreed to petition both Houses of Parliament against the adoption of such a measure.

This important subject underwent a still more elaborate discussion in the House of Lords. On the 26th of May, lord Lansdown, in moving for the appointment of a committee, to take into consideration the means of extending and securing the foreign trade of the country, led the House into a comprehensive view of every part of it. After proposing the abolition of all absolutely prohibitory duties, he proposed a relaxation of the navigation laws to the extent of allowing produce, not colonial, to be imported from all parts of Europe, without making it necessary that it should be altogether in English-built ships, or in ships belonging to the nation whence the produce comes. At present, a vessel which had taken part of its cargo in a French port, and which afterwards had proceeded to a Flanders port for the remainder,

could not enter a British port. All that he would propose would be, to allow such a vessel to make good its assortment in different ports in Europe, and still to have the right of entering this country. The next point to which he would advert, was one of no inconsiderable importance in itself, and of still greater consequence from the principle which it involvedhe meant an entire freedom of the transit trade. Such a change would tend to encourage the warehousing system, and would thus promote the desirable object of rendering our ports the dépôts of foreign nations. Whatever brought the foreign merchant to this country, and made it a general mart for the merchandize of the world, was valuable to our trade, and enriched the industrious population of our ports. Such freedom of transit allowed of assortment of cargoes for foreign markets, and thus extended our trade in general. He was aware that the abolition of transit duties was formerly opposed by those who wished to protect the linen trade of Ireland, and he willingly allowed that that trade deserved peculiar protection. A duty of 15 per cent on the importation of foreign linens was, during the war, thought necessary, to protect the linen manufactures of Ireland. No injury resulted from that arrangement while we engrossed the commerce of the world, while no vessel could sail without a British convoy, and while we could force our own commodities into foreign markets, in preference to others, for which there was a greater demand; but now the case was altered, and many, who were interested in the linen

manufacture of Ireland, thought a relaxation of the transit duty advisable. Indeed, it could not be forgotten, that this manufacture had flourished to as great an extent as ever, before it was protected by any duty; but whatever was the policy of imposing that duty during the war, the same reasons would not now justify its continuance. If we refused to admit German linen without the payment of a transit duty, the foreigner would rather go to Germany for the article ; and as linen might be necessary in the assortment of his cargo, this duty would drive him away altogether, even when desirous of obtaining other articles which our soil or industry could supply. Lord Lansdown next proceeded to recommend the removal of the burdens imposed on the importation of timber from the north of Europe. The timber from Canada cost us annually 500,000/. more, than if we had brought it from the Baltic. And what was the article which was thus raised in price? It was the raw material of our houses, our bridges, our canals, nay, of our very shipping; and yet the shipowners had been inconsiderate enough to petition in favour of duties, which increased the expenses of their own trade. What was the reasoning, on which they ground their resistance to the abolition of these duties? In their own petition, they represent that, from the length and difficulty of the Voyage to North America, the larger part of the value of the timber thence imported consists of freight; and that the mere circumstance of the proximity of the northern ports of Europe, by enabling ships to repeat their

voyages frequently in the course of a year, would reduce the number of British vessels employed in the timber trade to onethird. They therefore say, that, whereas it is expedient that they should be employed-and where as they cannot be so employed if they procure timber where it is cheapest and best-they should import it of the worst quality, and from the greatest distance. This was the proposition propounded, when the question was, whether we should import our timber from our own colonies, or from the Baltic. But let the House observe to what consequences the principle would go, if applied to other branches of trade. Suppose it were proposed, on the same plea, to bring our cotton from the East Indies, instead of importing it from America, he did not see on what grounds those could resist such a proposition, who argued that we ought to import our timber from Canada rather than from Norway. The voyage would have the advantage of being thrice as long, and the article might be tripled in price. A petition from Newcastle had stated, that, by resorting to the Baltic for timber, not one-half the number of vessels would be employed that now sailed to America, which was just as good a reason for going to the latter country, as we should have for employing double the number of horses for carrying the mails, when the present number was sufficient.

His lordship farther stated, that facilities ought to be afforded to commercial intercourse with France. At present, a duty of 1437. 18s. was imposed upon the tun of French wine, while only

[ocr errors]

951. was imposed upon Spanish and Portuguese wines. Now, although the government of France was not disposed to enter into any commercial treaty, or to make any liberal arrangement for receiving our manufactures in exchange for their wine, he would not allow but that some change should be made in our present trade with that country. Even though the government were not disposed, at first, to enter into any specific treaty, the people would find their advantage in the intercourse; and although we might be obliged, in the first place, to pay in bullion, our manufactures would go abroad to purchase that bullion. For a long course of time we had been exporting bullion to the East Indies, and we were obliged to export manufactures to America for the purpose of procuring it. consent of Portugal to any beneficial arrangement of this kind. with France, would not be required; as, if we did not enforce our claim to send Portugal our. woollens, she had no right to demand of us to take her wines. What he had said of the wines of France, would apply likewise to its silks; and if our own silk manufacturers were to suffer temporarily, by a removal of the prohibitory duties, he would willingly agree to a large parliamentary grant for the purpose of indemnity.


But the topic on which his lordship expatiated at greatest length was, that of the trade with the East Indies. It was impossible to forget, said he, that from one of the largest, most fertile, and most populous portions of the globe, that immense space which lay between Africa and

America, the general British merchant was excluded. From the time that he doubled Cape Horn, or the Cape of Good Hope, he found his commercial operations cramped, and his enterprise restrained; not by the nature of the country, for it was rich, and adapted to commerce; not by the indisposition of the people to trade, for they were numerous, industrious, and disposed to exchange their productions for ours; not by the difficulties of the seas, for, by the trade-winds and the monsoons, navigation was easy and secure; but he was pursued, and all his schemes defeated, by the Statute-book. It was this, that restrained him from trading from one part to another without a licence. It was this, which prevented him from dealing in one of the most valuable and lucrative articles-tea. When the trade to the East Indies was not open, there was no independent British tonnage on the other side of the Cape of Good Hope. At present, there were, in the Eastern seas, 20,000 tons of shipping in the service of the East-India Company, but 61,000 in the service of the free traders. Was there any one, seeing, as they all had seen, the rapid strides with which British commerce had advanced in that quarter of the globe, bold enough to say that the advantages of a free trade might not be carried still further even there, and might not be rendered productive of even still more important results? But, there was another point, which he wished to press upon the notice of their lordships, that the free trade employed 4,720 British seamen, whilst the trade of the East-India Company employed only 2,550. This fact particu

larly deserved their attention, because it displayed the benefits of a free trade, even in quarters where benefits were least of all to be expected. Whenever a free trade to other countries nearer home had been proposed, the country had been told, that the opening of such trade would be highly inexpedient, because it would throw out of employment a certain number of British seamen; but, now that the trade was opened to the East Indies, it was proved, that it not only did not throw any out of employment, but actually opened a field for the employment of an additional number. It was true, that, in the vessels employed in the free trade, there were only 7 men to every 100 tons; whereas, in the East-India service, there were 20 men to the same quantity of tonnage; but did that circumstance prove any thing against a free trade, connected, as they ought to connect it, with the fact, that the number of seamen engaged in that free trade, was greater than the number engaged by the East-India Company? Lord Lansdown concluded, by expatiating on the absurdity of excluding our own countrymen from the tea-trade, while it was left open to the Americans and other foreigners; and by enforcing the necessity of cultivating friendly relations with the provinces of South America, which presented a boundless field for the future extension of our commerce.

Lord Liverpool spoke immediately after lord Lansdown. In the first part of his speech, he endeavoured to prove, that the existing distress was not produced nor accompanied by any diminution of our internal consump

« TrướcTiếp tục »