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and if it is at last to be rejected, it is apparent that no time ought to be thrown away upon it.
The hours, and days, and weeks, that have been unprofitably spent upon bills which after all our endeavours could not be passed; the delays of real benefits to the publick, which have been produced by long pursuits of shadowy advantages, have inclined me to a more expeditious method of proceeding, and determined me speedily to reject what I cannot hope to amend.
[The question being put, passed in the negative, 142 against 109.]
HOUSE OF COMMONS, FEB. 27, 1740-1.
DEBATE ON THE SECOND READING OF A BILL TO PREVENT
INCONVENIENCIES ARISING FROM INSURANCE OF SHIPS.
The bill being read, sir JOHN BARNARD spoke thus: -Sir, there cannot be brought before this house any questions more difficult in themselves, more entangled with a multiplicity of relations, or more perplexed with an endless diversity of circumstances, than those which relate to commercial affairs; affairs on which the most experienced often disagree, and on which the most sagacious may deceive themselves with erroneous conjectures.
There are no questions, sir, which require so much personal knowledge of the subject to which they relate, nor is there any subject with which so few gentlemen in this house have had opportunities of being acquainted. There are no questions, sir, which their variety of relations to different persons exposes to be so easily misrepresented without detection, nor any in which the opposition of particular interests so much incites a false representation. In all these cases, deceit is easy, and there is a strong temptation to deceive.
Nor are these questions, sir, always perplexed by intentional fraud, or false assertions, of which they that utter them are themselves conscious.
Those who deceive us, do not always suppress any truth of which they are convinced, nor set facts before us in any other light, than that in which themselves behold them ; they for the most part err with an honest intention, and propagate no mistakes but those which they have themselves admitted.
Of this kind, sir, are, doubtless, the measures proposed in the bill before us, which those by whom they are promoted may easily think to be of benefit to the publick, but which, I believe, will appear the result of imperfect views, and partial consideration.
The great and fundamental errour, sir, of the patrons of this bill, seems to be an opinion that the practice of insuring is not known to other nations, nor can be carried on in any other place; and from this principle they deduce consequences, which, if they were inevitably certain, might easily influence us to an immediate approbation of the bill, as necessary to secure our commerce, and distress our enemies.
They conclude, sir, with sufficient justness, that very few merchants would hazard their fortunes in long voyages or distant commerce, or expose themselves to the dangers of war, without the security which insurances afford them; and having persuaded themselves that such security is to be obtained from no other nation, they imagine that we might, by prohibiting it, confine all the foreign vessels in their ports, and destroy, by one resolution, the trade of both our rivals and our enemies.
That our East India company may desire the ratification of this bill, I cannot deny, because they might, perhaps, receive from it some temporary advantage by the short inconveniencies which those whom they consider as the enemies of their commerce would feel from it. They may desire it, because the experiment, if it fails, as it must, cannot injure them; and if it succeeds, may produce great advantages to them: they may wish it, because they will feel the immediate benefit, and the detriment will fall upon others.
I shall not inquire whether our merchants are inclined
to look with malevolence on all those who cultivate the same branches of commerce with themselves, though they have neither the violation of natural rights, nor the infringement of national treaties, to complain of. I should be unwilling to suspect a British merchant, whose acquaintance with the constitution of his own country ought to show him the value of liberty, who ought to be above narrow schemes, by the knowledge which his profession enables him to gain, of a desire to encroach upon the rights of others, or to engross the general benefits of nature; and shall only observe, that several other nations can plead a claim to the East India trade, a claim of equal validity with our own; that the Danes have their settlement there, and that the Portuguese discovered the way to those regions of wealth, from which some, perhaps, are inclined to exclude them.
But nothing is more vain than to attempt to exclude them by refusing to ensure their ships, because the opinion that they can be insured by no other nation is entirely without foundation. There are at this time offices of insurance along the whole coasts of the midland sea, among the Dutch, and even among the French. Nothing can debar
any nation from the trade of insurance but the want of money; and that money is not wanted by foreigners for this purpose, appears from the great sums which they have deposited in our funds.
That this trade is now carried on chiefly by this nation, though not solely, is incontestable; but what can be inferred from that, but that we ought not to obstruct our own gain; that we ought not to make a law to deprive ourselves of that advantage of which either favourable accidents or our own sagacity have put us in possession.
For this reason it appears that it would not contribute to the wealth of the publick to debar us from insuring the ships even of those with whom we are at war, for it is always to be remembered that they will receive no detriment from such prohibitions, nor will feel any other consequence from them than a necessity of transferring to some other nation the profit which we receive from it.
What the profit is which arises to the nation from the trade of insurance it is not possible exactly to determine, but that the trade is really advantageous may be reasonably conceived, because after many years' experience it is diligently followed, and a law was never necessary to prohibit the pursuit of a business by which nothing was to be gained. But could the gain of the insurer be a doubtful point, there is a certain advantage to the nation by the money paid for commission, brokerage, stamps, and the credit of the premium deposited here.
I might add, sir, another considerable sum yearly arising to the government from the additional letters, occasioned by this trade, which increase the revenues of the postoffice, without any deduction for additional charge.
That the loss of this profit, and the gain of insuring, will ensue upon the ratification of this bill, cannot be denied ; nor does it appear, that this loss will be counterbalanced by any advantage that will be gained over our rivals or our enemies.
Whether this bill, sir, would produce to the merchants of that city by which it is promoted, the advantages which they expect from it, or remove any of the grievances of which they complain, I am not able positively to determine; but know, that it is not uncommon for merchants, as well as other men, to confound private with publick grievances, and to imagine their own interest the interest of the nation.
With regard, sir, to the practice of insuring, interest or no interest, as the term is, when an imaginary value is put upon the ship or cargo, often much above its real worth, it cannot be denied, that some opportunities may be given by it for wicked practices. But there will always be circumstances in which there can be no security against frauds, but common faith ; nor do I see how we can secure the insurers against the possibility of being defrauded.
I cannot, indeed, discover, sir, how this method of insuring can be prevented; for how can the value of a cargo be estimated, which is to be collected in a long voyage, at different ports, and where the success of the adventurers osten depends upon lucky accidents, which are, indeed,
always hoped for, but seldom happen. An imaginary value must, therefore, be fixed upon, when the ship leaves the port; because the success of that voyage cannot be foreknown, and the contracting parties may be safely trusted to set that value, without any law to direct or restrain them.
If the merchants are oppressed by any peculiar inconveniencies, and can find means of redressing them without injuring the publick commerce, any proposal for that purpose ought to be favourably received; but as the bill now before us proposes general restraints, and proposes to remove grievances which are not felt, by remedies, which those upon whom they are to operate, do not approve, I think it ought not to be referred to a committee, but rejected.
Mr. SouthWELL spoke next, in terms to this purpose : -Sir, when I first proposed this bill to the house, I lamented the absence of that honourable gentleman, from whose discussions and arguments I expected great information ; and for whose judgment, in all commercial questions, I have the highest esteem, as his penetration not only enables him to discover the consequences of methods which have not yet been tried, but as his extensive acquaintance with many branches of trade, cannot but have informed him of the success of many expedients tried, as well in other nations as our own, for the advancement of it.
Trade, sir, is a subject, of which it has been justly observed, that very few gentlemen have attained knowledge sufficient to qualify themselves to judge of the propriety of any new regulation ; and I cannot but confess, that I have no uncommon skill in these questions. What I have to offer on this occasion, has been suggested to me, not so much by my own observations, as by the intelligence which I have very industriously sought, and by which, as I endeavoured to inquire of those whose opinion was least likely to be perverted by their interest, I hope I have not been misled.
The merchants, sir, to whom it has been my fortune to apply, have generally concurred in the opinion that the