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THE MERCHANT SHIPPING AND PILOT- AGE BILL. THE manner in which Mr. Cardwell's measure for throwing open the coasting trade, and conso- lidating various laws relating to shipping, has been received by the House of Commons, has strikingly illustrated the great improvement I which has taken place in that assembly, with re* gard to commercial matters. The narrow and restrictive policy, long so strenuously advocated, seems to have been almost entirely given up and a bill which, but a short time ago, would have been at least loudly denounced, though it might not have been quite defeated, has met, as to its main principle, with general concurrence. In fact, the relaxations made in recent years have worked so well that many members honestly ac- knowledge how unfounded were their former pre- judices. It appears that during the last year no fewer than 190,000 seamen, being the largest number ever known, were engaged in the trade of the United Kingdom. The facilities lately given for the employment of foreign sailors, have not been made use of to a very alarming extent; for the number employed during the first three months after the late act came into operation, viz., from October 1st to December 31st, 1853, was but 2,500. It will be recollected that, in 1840, Mr. Labouchere at first proposed to open the coasting as well as the fo- reign trade; but afterwards withdrew that part of his measure. It was thought, in some quarters, that this was done to pass the rest of his bill the more easily; though, on the other hand, some of his opponents censured him for opening that branch of trade in which competition was likely to be injurious; and keeping that branch pro- tected, in which such competition was not to be feared. The alleged ground, however, was that it would peril the Customs' revenue and this is now stated to be the only reason. But it appears that the Board of Customs have waived this objection and, since there can be no mate- rial change in the facts of the case, we can only suppose that the impediment they formerly threw in the way, arose from a mere indolent aversion to make the neeessary arrangements. Certainly there is much force in the common-sense argu- ment that foreign sailors cannot smuggle with the same ease as those acquainted with the language, the localities, and the people; and that, there- fore, whatever preventive measures are adopted against contraband importations by British sailors, may be still more effectually adopted with re- spect to foreigners. The way being thus cleared of official hind- rances, the strong practical reason for opening the coasting trade is evident to those who are ac- quainted with it. Every branch of shipping being well employed, the vessels engaged in the coast- ing department have long been inadequate to the demand, and hence freights have risen enor- mously. The shipowners, indeed, should not be envied in these seasons of prosperity, which are a set-off against less prosperous times. They have had long and dreary seasons of adversity and hope deferred; and had this enhancement been but of a temporary kind, legislation would have been uncalled for. But there is every appearance of its long continuance, and of its seriously affecting those trades which make use of this kind of car- riage. The transit of stone and of other heavy articles, has been greatly impeded we have heard of one case where an individual in another part of the country, having a contract for timber, found it so difficult to get it conveyed, that he had to purchase a ship for the purpose, though such an investment was by no means convenient. It has even affected the supply of food; for the sending of Scottish agricultural produce into Eng- land has been much interrupted. Potatoes, in particular, which are of considerable importanc e now corn is so high, have been abundant in Scot- land, and of excellent quality yet, in many cases it has been impracticable to supply the English demand. Of still more importance is the effect upon the supply of coal. The enormous price which that article has reached in the metropolis and the southern counties, in consequence of a brief obstruction of the railways by snow, and a few stormy days at sea, opens up a fearful prospect of the suffering which a frost of no great length might inflict upon a large portion of the kingdom, if follow- ing-as has often been the case-upon such weather as that referred to. With all our facilities of com- munication, and with an immunity, of late years, from severe winter weather of long duration, we scarcely realise the idea of those sufferings of which we read, as having been endured under such circum- stances. The very ease of ordinary communication leads to a smaller storage of food and fuel; and it is terrible to think how soon a town may be without either. It is true that a larger number of ships would have been equally impeded by the late storms; but, then, they would have poured in a proportionately larger supply, immediately on being set at liberty. n In Railways, too, may be blocked with snow at a time when sailing is practicable. Some will say, "Let us have all our coal by railway." But that can only be a gradual work; and coal is not very remunerative for long distances. The great coal districts are the most populous; and the greatest demand for the article, again, is from large populations. Now, the lines from such termini" are already too much crowded. Long lines for minerals only may ulti- mately be adopted. But the shipping trade is one -I> _1_1.- VI. g'CHi impuiiiiiitc, ttucaujr in existence, and cer- tainly ought to have every impediment removed from its course. Besides, as we have already observed, it is much safer for the public to have two modes 'of supply; and we need scarcely add that it is cheaper. The present system, like all others on the restric- tive principle, occasions, further, a great waste of labour, and much unproductive employment of capi- tal—which, of course, must be made up for by in- creased charges elsewhere. How absurd it is, for instance, that a ship from Norway to Cork, after un- loading a cargo there, with orders to take coals from Newport, should be forbidden to carry anything from Cork to Newport, but should be obliged to be at the expense of taking in more ballast, and unloading it again on arriving at our Dock, before it can take its cargo of coals. The same illustration will apply to numerous other cases. Then, there is a secondary evil. Ballast must be deposited, an operation which (though perhaps the material is useful to us now) will involve increasing cost, as river-side land becomes more valuable; or it must be carried out to sea. This occasions a large expense. If, on the other hand, ships cast ballast at such a distance as not to choke up the entrance to a harbour, they are in great danger of capsizing with a gust of wind; and hence it is very common, under cover of night, to throw it into harbours and rivers, to the obviously great in- jury of the navigation. The Customs department estimate that, in 1852, no less than 415,000 tons of freight was mere ballast! Considering all these facts, the measure now pro- posed is wise in policy, and calculated to be practi- cally beneficial. With regard to reciprocity, we have had, since 1849, some proof of the tendency of such changes, to bring about a like effect elsewhere, even where no stipulation to that end has existed. We have also seen that indirect benefit has been gained, where reciprocity has been refused. When our coasting trade was opened to France, in 1849, that country made no corresponding change and the fact was not unnaturally referred to, by those who doubted the wisdom of our policy, as an argument against the course our legislature had pursued. But what was the result? A transit trade, it appears, sprang up between France and America, through England; and the amount of that tradr, last year, considerably ex- ceeds two millions of francs. A subject of much local interest was adverted to by Mr. Cardwell. The result of his communications 0 c' with Bristol, when taking up the pilotage question, last year, has been, that the parties there who now control the channel pilotage, have offered to abide by the decision of the Board of Trade and that a mem' her of that Board will shortly hold all inquiry, for the purpose of putting the BoaVd in possessraii of the requisite information. The right hon. gentleman, therefore, promises an early settlement of the exist- ing disputes. This is very satisfactory, as far as it goes; but it is evident that, if the proper course be not taken, the settlement may be by no means such as the other ports can approve. Mr. Cardwell talks of physical as well as legal difficultiesand that one word physical," suggests the danger of that well-known obstacle to reformation, alleged imprac- cability," being set to prevent Newport and our sister Channel towns from obtaining what is practicable. The proper course now to be adopted, will be for each town to appoint a representative, possessing the ne- cessary information, to attend the inquiry, and to lay before the gentleman who may be sent down by the Board, whatever facts it is needful fur him to be made acquainted with. Mr. Cardwell's statement contained various other particulars, upon which we need not dwell; and with respect to the details of which, he has invited suggestions from practical men. Among these are, increased powers to the Board of Trade, with a view to the prevention of accidents; the re- quirement of a eel tifieate of capacity from masters in the home as well as the foreign trade, with a similar object; the co-operation of the Trinity-house with the Board in investigating disasters at sea; a provision for the systematic maintenance of life-boats (a mea. sure of vast importance) a better system of measure- ment for ships; and a general consolidation of the mercantile shipping laws. There is every reason to hope for much benefit from these changes; and a benefit which may be increased if Mr. Cardwell's invitation be responded to.


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