Sin, — The letters of Mr. David MacIver, M.P., and Mr. Livingstone
Holmes in last week's Spectator do not appear to detract in any degree from the value of Mr. Austin Taylor's letter relative to the effect of Protection upon American shipping. Both of his critics approach the question with airy confidence as to their ability easily to prove that Mr. Taylor's arguments and conclusions are wrong; and if you will allow me, I should like to offer a few remarks upon this important and interesting question.
Mr. ItiacIver's main points seem to be :— (1) That Germany, a Protectionist country, is beating us in shipbuilding; and that as, in addition, both Germany and the
United States admit all shipbuilding material free, it cannot be Protection that has brought about the present parlous condition of the American shipbuilding and shipping trades.
(2) That American shipbuilding has been killed because the climate of the United States is so unfavourable, and wages there are so high.
NOW, with regard to (1), is it a fact that Germany is beating us ? The official figures of Lloyd's Register show that in 1903
the mercantile tonnage built in the United Kingdom amounted to 1,190,618 tons, and in Germany to 184,494 tons ; and as a further illustration of British shipbuilding supremacy, the steam tonnage built in the United Kingdom during the same year was 1,165,503 tons, out of a total for the entire globe of 1,963,708 tons. It is true that Germany has built some very magnificent passenger steamers, but it is not realised by people generally that the backbone of a mercantile marine consists of cargo steamers, in which department Britain reigns supreme.
As to (2), it would be interesting to know the name of the great shipbuilding firm in this country who furnished the
authority for Mr. MacIver's statement, because it is difficult to imagine that any one who knows the climatic conditions of those
districts of the United States where most of the leading ship- building yards are could give such an opinion. It is un- doubtedly the fact that high wages are a serious adverse factor to United States shipbuilding, and Mr. MacIver's refer- ence to this is a strong argument against the view he wishes to enforce if we are to believe what the Protectionist party tell us, that their policy raises the level of wages.
Now for Mr. Livingstone Holmes's letter. If it means any- thing at all, it is that British shipowners are suffering from great depression—as unquestionably they are—and we are to infer that American and French shipping prosper because the former country reserves for itself all trade with the Philippines and Cuba, and the latter pays her shipping large bounties. It seems a pity that Mr. Holmes should write upon a subject about which his information is not more accurate. So far from America reserving for herself all trade with the Philippines and Cuba, the fact is that, although a law was passed some time ago making the trade to the Philippines "coasting," which would prevent foreign ships from engaging in it, the operation of this law has been suspended until July, 1906; and owing to the practical non-existence of suitable American tonnage, and the strong opposition in many influential quarters, among other reasons, it is more than likely that the period may be extended beyond 1906,
or that the law will not come into force at all. It is worth noting that in 1903 only about 12 per oent. of the exports and imports between the United States and the Philippines was carried in American ships. Is for Cuba, Mr. Holmes is still more in error, because this island is not a dependency of the United States at all, and is placed upon the same footing as other countries in the matter of shipping so far as concerns the United States.
No one who is conversant with the present position can possibly hold the view that American shipping is deriving any benefit from the Protectionist policy of the United States; and in support of this I will merely quote the words of Mr. J. S. Hill, the president of the Great Northern Railway (U.S.) in giving evidence before the Merchant Marine Commission last May. He said:—" So far as building ships in America is con- cerned, I have had an experience with building two very large
ships, and I am quite satisfied I don't want any more I would rather undertake to build a thousand miles of railroad than build two ships." And again, speaking in his capacity of shipowner and in relation to his experience as such:—" We are in a condition of industrial distress because of the high price of everything."
As for the bounties granted to French shipping, without doubt the stimulus artificially given to the building of sailing vessels in France has caused most serious competition to our sailing-ship industry; but the high-water mark has now been passed, and the worst is over. It would take up too much of your space to enter into the details of the French bounty system. Enough to say that it was fixed for a limited number of years ; and whereas France built 192,196 tons of merchant ships in 1902, her output was reduced to 92,768 tons in 1903, and at the present time there is not one large oversee sailing vessel building there. The excessive first cost of ships built in France, the high insurance premiums and generally expensive working, have caused French tonnage during the last few years to show in the main disastrous results to the shareholders, and the bounty has cost the taxpayers of France a, very large sum.
If it is to be understood—and there can be no other reasonable conclusion—that your correspondents, Mr. idaelver and Mr. Holmes, wish us to believe that Protection and the Navigation Laws of the United States are not responsible for the decay of American shipbuilding and shipping, and that the kindred British industries would be benefited by adopting some of the methods of Protectionist countries, then the answer surely is :—That although British shipping is in some respects adversely affected by the policies adopted by other countries, it must be borne in mind that in no circumstances can we expect to have every- thing in this world exactly as we would like, and that the evidence is overwhelming as to the injury the return to Protection would inflict upon the shipping trade, one of the greatest, if not the greatest of British industries.
—I am, Sir, &c., HOWARD HOULDER.
8 and 9 Great St. Helens, London, E.C.
[To THE EDITOR OP THE speorwr0a.1