« PreviousContinue »
portations under the latter act must be by licence from his Majesty, and of articles the produce or manufacture of countries, not prohibited to be used or consumed here. The trade carried on under this act differs from that under the 39th and 40th Geo. 3. c. 34. in as much as there is no restriction on the tonnage of the vessels; and the articles imported under it may be sold for home consumption, except sugar and coffee, which must be warehoused for exportation: it therefore only remained requisite to vest the same power in his Majesty, with respect to countries in amity, which he had by the 43d Geo. 3. c. 153. in regard to countries not in amity, and then the whole navigation system was liable to be suspended at discretion; which it appears had been done in some instances, even before this act passed; but the illegality thereof was cured by an act of indemnity, namely by the 45th Geo. 3. c. 33.
By the 44th Geo. 3. c. 29. his Majesty was also authorized to allow certain enumerated articles to be imported in any foreign ship, on payment of the same duties as in a British ship. This act was limited in its duration, but afterwards continued, with the addition of goat skins, by the 45th Geo. 3. c. 80., and further continued by the 46th Geo. 3. c. 29. s. 9. to the 25th March, 1808. It is to be observed, that none of the articles enumerated could be imported from any place in a British ship, except goat skins, which were allowed under the 15th Geo. 3. c. 35. and which was made perpetual by the 31st Geo. 3. c. 43.
These are the leading features of the several statutes, which established and gaveper manency to "the system of suspension;" attempted to be justified on the presumed ground of necessity, but which, in the opinions of well-informed and disinterested persons, did not exist to warrant such a radical change in a fundamental law of the land. The principle adopted in the act which allowed goods to be imported in time of peace in neutral vessels and to be warehoused for exportation had never been acted upon in any former peace; nor was it warranted by then existing circumstances, for it is well known that at the close of the last war several thousand tons of British Shipping could not procure employment. It was the injurious operation of these acts, which induced the
Ship Owners to apply so frequently between the years 1801 and 1804 to the legislature and government, but their applications were not attended to, though the depression on the Shipping Interest began to be more generally and severely felt.
The rapid discharge of seamen from the navy at the commencement of the late peace was also attended with great injury to the state, from the vast numbers of them who emigrated to France* and other foreign states, in search of em ployment: many thousand tons of British Shipping were, likewise, obliged to be sold or let to foreigners, under circumstances peculiarly distressing, especially those chartered to the Dutch and French merchants; and the owners of those ships cannot fail to remember the losses they sustained by the want of protection which was on the commencement of this war so unaccountably withheld from themt.
It may perhaps be considered invidious to make any further observations on these transactions; they certainly tended considerably to increase the depression on British Shipping, and though it was difficult, in 1802, to obtain freights for them almost at any rate, neutral ships were continued to be employed in the trade of this country, in time of peace, under orders in council.
Whatever contrary opinions may have been promulgated on this subject, the navigation laws were certainly violated and infringed by the importations in neutral ships under the suspending acts; yet it has been asked, "where is "the evidence that the principle of the navigation law was in the "smallest degree violated?" By the 12th Cha. 2. c. 18. the principle was established, of securing to British Ships the exclusive trade to and from the British plantations; and the importation into Great Britain from all parts of the world was confined to British Ships, or to the ships of the countries of which the goods to be imported were the growth, or produce. It is not contended by the Shipping Interest that the navigation laws were established to encourage and secure trade, but to increase shipping and seamen; the object of
Alley's Vindication of Lord Sheffield's Strictures, p. 55. Also the Petitions to Parliament in 1802.
+ See printed Case of the Owners of British Ships which were let on freight during the late peace, to the subjects of the Batavian Republic. Edit. 1803..
Mr. Cock's Answer to Lord Sheffield's Strictures, p. 6.
the founders of that system being to promote navigation, in order to encrease the naval power of the kingdom. Commerce can be carried on as well in foreign as in British shipping, especially in time of war, because the former are free from capture, and are navigated at much less expence, consequently their freights are lower: it is therefore obvious that in case neutral ships are allowed to trade to and from Great Britain, to countries where British ships can go, the number of the latter must unavoidably be considerably reduced, and the nursery for British Seamen affected in the same proportion.
These relaxations have been attempted to be justified, first, on the ground of necessity, and afterwards on the advantages supposed to be derived by merchants to whom goods were consigned from abroad, and imported in neutral shipping into this kingdom, although they were not the growth or produce of the country from whence they came, or of the country to which the neutral ships belonged, and which were entered for home consumption, or warehoused for exportation. It may be admitted, that under the provisions of these acts, goods to a certain extent came to this country for a market, which probably would not otherwise have been brought hither; but the benefits accruing from such importations were infinitely too inconsiderable to counterbalance the serious injury done to British shipping, by allowing neutral vessels not belonging to the countries from whence the goods came, to bring articles for home consumption, which if such indulgences had not been granted to them would have been brought in British ships, except from the countries of the enemy, to which the suspension of the former system should have been confined; and even in that case limited to articles indispensably necessary in British Manufactures, and to them only; for the more bulky articles obtained from the enemy's countries, such as Brandies, &c. should not have been allowed to be imported direct in neutral vessels, but only to have been taken to a neutral port, and the importation of such articles from thence, confined to British bottoms; which would have been highly beneficial to the Shipping Interest and the West-India planters; for the encreased freight and expences on such spirits would have operated as a bounty on Rum from the British Colonies, without any injury to the revenue, whilst it produced a proportionate depression on the Enemy. It is understood an application to this effect was made by the Shipping Interest to
the Board of Trade during the late administration, but with
Under the operation of some of these statutes the injury to the British merchant was manifest, and to the revenue very great. The British merchant, in the course of regular importation, entered his goods on their arrival, and paid the duty immediately. The foreigner warehoused his goods without paying any duties, and they were allowed to remain in his own warehouse, under no other care than that of an ordinary custom house officer, till the foreign merchant chose to declare whether he would take them out for home consumption or for exportation; he therefore, in the first instance, was spared the use of so much capital as the duties would have amounted to on the importation of the goods, and actually saved the duty on that part of them which was wasted, or clandestinely taken out of store, between the landing and regular delivery of the goods. Thus, it is clear the relaxation did not* produce any advantage to the trade of the country, or any benefit to the revenue; on the contrary, in all importations from countries in amity with Great Britain, which were warehoused, a certain loss accrued from waste, or from the goods being clandestinely taken thereout, which was often done. The injury sustained by the British merchant, under the operation of these regulations, is now fortunately obviated by an equal and wise system established by a subsequent act, which is beneficial to the merchant and not injurious to the revenue (except by the postponement of the payment of the duties), as the goods are deposited in security, and the public interest cannot suffer by waste or plunder, the duties being payable according to the measure or weight of the goods when first imported.
In order to countenance and give effect to the new system, it is likewise stated "that in the American war, if we had rigidly adhered to the laws of the 17th century we should not have been able to defend ourselves against "the formidable confederacy by which we were assailed +”. This assertion is, however, calculated to mislead; for the departure from the old system in the American war, cannot justly be compared with the suspension of it during the late war, under the acts before mentioned: for the act of the
19th Geo. 3d. c. 28. only allowed British built ships, though owned by foreigners, to import certain enumerated articles in case three fourths of the crew were British subjects, or the subjects of the countries from whence the cargoes were imported, but in the latter they were liable to the alien duties ; and by the 20th Geo. 3. c. 20. ships in the merchants, service were permitted, as is customary in time of war, to be navigated by three fourths foreign seamen.
These are the only acts passed in the American war, which interfered with the policy of the navigation system. Besides the several acts which were passed in the course of the last war to authorize the suspension of the former system, the same was further extended as before stated, by the 44th Geo. 3d. c. 29. which allowed for a limited period, hides, wool, and other articles of raw materials for manufactures, to be imported here in any foreign vessel whatever, under orders in council; and by a subsequent act, the 45th Geo. 3. c. 34. all importations from countries belonging to foreign European princes in America, are allowed in neutral ships: thus it appears, by the laws now in force, goods may be brought not only from the countries of the enemy, in any neutral shipping, however navigated, but likewise from the territories of foreign states, in Europe, as well as on the continent of America; though the articles so to be imported are not the growth or produce of the country to which the ships or vessels may belong.
It is likewise asked, but with what propriety is not ob vious, were we ever so flourishing in commerce at any former period as in the peace which succeeded the war during which we had thus deviated?" It is well known that the nation was never in so depressed a state as during that war, and that the measures adopted by Mr. PITT, to which is to be attributed the revival of the trade, commerce, and manufactures of the country, and also the improvement of the revenue in the peace that followed the American war, had not the most remote connexion with the relaxation of the navigation system which afterwards took place.
It appears the trade of Great Britain has invariably increased in time of war (except in the American war), and it is to be seen, that in the period prior to the operation of the acts which suspended the navigation system in 1797, it
* Mr. Cock's Answer, p. 12.