Ld. Temple moved the 2nd reading of the American Intercourse bill; and on the motion was, that counsel should he called in,
spoke to the following effect.—No man, in this house rates the abilities of the right hon. secretary (Mr. Fox) more highly than I do, but he has not considered this subject with the attention it merits. He says the bill under consideration repeals no law. It is true, sir, the word "repeal" does not occur in it; but the enactments do effectually and expressly remove all the colonial restraints in the principle of which established as early as the time of Richard II.; further regulations were made for the benefit of British shipping in subsequent reigns, till that of Charles II. when the system was brought to nearly its present state of perfection. Under the wise and provident restrictions of the law then passed, our naval power has grown to its present strength; it is on that ground, I contend, no permanent alterations should suddenly be adopted distinction between a repeal and a perpetual suspension, as in this case, will be found to be rather a nice-one. The act. of the 12th of Charles II. ch. 18. provides "that nothing shall be imported into, or exported front the plantations," except in British ships, on pain of forfeiting the ships, &c. Under this bill the importation and exportation in Foreign 687 vessels into and from our islands is unlimited; but we are told, that in point of fact, this act has been supended from time to time, the truth of which, during the last and present war, partially and for limited periods, I admit; but that was, however, done under a severe and strict responsibility of the governors of the several islands, who were amenable to the secretary of state for their conduct, and on whose representation their indemnity from parliament depended; there was therefore reasonable security against the misapplication of their power, and that is completely rescinded by this measure. We are told indeed that the responsibility is only shifted to his majesty's ministers; what reliance we may have on that may be judged from what fell from the right hon. gent. who professes a decided opinion that this is indispensably necessary in time of war, and thinks it may be fit to be continued also in peace. Such sentiments from an authority so high and respectable are seriously alarming: and if acted upon, a deadly blow will be given to our naval power. I will bring under the view of the committee as shortly as I can, the regulations made for governing the trade between Great Britain and her colonies, and the American States, from the time of the separation of the latter from the former. After the conclusion of the American war, the new situation in which we were placed by this event, led to an act being passed in 1783, to enable his majesty by orders in council to make regulations for carrying on the trade with America, under the authority whereof a proclamation was issued, confining the trade between the United States and our colonies to British ships exclusively. At that restriction the assembly of Jamaica, and the West India proprietors in general became greatly alarmed, and made lively and strong remonstrances to the council against it, urging that the consequences of it must be ruinous to the islands. These complaints were immediately attended to, and the parties were fully and patiently heard before the committee for trade: they were permitted to produce evidence as long as they had any to offer, and all other persons were called upon who were thought likely to throw any light on the subject, including merchants resident in Great Britain, late governors in America, and British settlers in that country. This enquiry, conducted with the utmost impartiality, lasted two or three months; and ended in a report recommend- 688 ing that the proclamation confining the trade to British ships should be enforced. It could indeed have no other termination, as it was satisfactorily proved to the lords that the supplies to the islands might be regularly furnished in these ships at moderate prices; and that the sale of rum would not thereby be prejudiced. The trade was accordingly so carried on from that year (1784) to 1793, without the slightest inconvenience having been experienced in either of those respects by the islands; they were plentifully supplied with lumber and provisions at moderate prices, and they found a ready and fair market for their rum and melasses. The good effects of this adherence to the navigation laws, were as striking as they are incontrovertible, as will he seen by time rapid increase of colonial shipping, contrary to the assertion of the West India planters before the committee for trade in 1785, who then stated that any shipping being fitted from the islands was hopeless.—In 1790 belonging to the West India islands, 706 ships, 86,010 tons, 5,115 men. In 1804, reduced to 67 ships, 7,629 tons, 626 men. To continental colonies, in 1790, 229 ships, 24,900 tons, 1,452 men. In 1804, 100 ships, 11,906 tons, 734 men. In 1792, British ships in the American trade inwards, 197 ships, 42,035 tons, 22,400 men. In 1794 ditto 11 ships, 2,152 tons, 134 men. It must, however, be admitted that the whole of the falling off of the ships from Great Britain was not owing to the suspension of the navigation act, as there were other causes that contributed to that.—I have already admitted that the governors of the islands began so early as the year 1793, or 1791, to relax from a due observance of the navigation laws, and I believe it was, in most instances at least, necessary they should do so: because, on the breaking out of the war time trade in British ships was much interrupted, and measures were not taken for furnishing regular convoys; the suspensions were, however, only partially restrained to particular articles, as well as limited in time—and on the appointment of a noble duke and myself to time presidency and vice-presidency of the board of trade, in 1804, we made enquiries, the result of which inclined us to think, that even during war, the terms of the proclamation alluded to might be acted upon, if convoys could be furnished. Instructions were indeed sent out to the governors in the West Indies in 1804, and 1805, in consequence of the 689 communications from the committee of trade, that occasioned the relaxation laws to be very much narrowed, and fortified by which the governors were preparing the islands for an adherence to them, except in cases of real and urgent necessity. The governor of Barbadoes, in particular strongly expressed the support he derived from his instructions, and his hope that he should succeed to the extent desired, making great complaints of the unnecessary interference of foreigners with our colonial navigation, and of the illicit practises of the Americans in particular. In other islands the supplies in neutrals were restrained, as far as related to provisions, but under the provisions of the present bill all the proceedings of the late committee of trade will be rendered utterly useless, and the whole trade to our colonies will be completely thrown open to foreigners. We are told, however, that this is a measure of absolute necessity, I deny that; it is also denied by persons much more capable of forming a correct judgment on the point than any of us in this committee. What is it then we ask? Not that our opinion shall at once be acted upon, but that an enquiry shall be had to prove who is right, and that a determination may be taken conformable thereto. I will undertake positively that such be gone through in four or five days, at the utmost, before a committee up stairs, which would not delay the progress of the bill a single hour; if that shall be granted, I have good reason to believe it will be proved to demonstration that the opinion entertained by the noble duke before alluded to, and myself, respecting a regular supply to the islands in British ships is a correct one; there are merchants of the highest respectability, and ship-owners, who are ready to embark in circuitous trade from hence to America, the West Indies, and home, as soon as they can be assured of convoys, if this bill shall be dropped: that can be proved before a committee. Will you then refuse to men entitled to every attention that can be shewn to them, the opportunity of establishing these facts by proof, when no possible inconvenience can arise from your doing so? I believe there is no instance of an enquiry being refused in such a case: what then will be thought of our proceedings if we should shut our doors against such petitioners as are now before us, who tell us we are about to adopt a measure as injurious to the country, as it must be ruinous to 690 them; and that if we withhold our hands, their ships, now rotting by the walls, will find profitable employment? Has this been asked for? If by any body, let us know by whom. Since the bill came into the house, some West India gentlemen, who now, as on other occasions, expressed an approbation of it;—if an enquiry is granted, the petitioners undertake to shew to those gentlemen that they could not suffer by the navigation laws being enforced, that they would send out ships, and settle correspondences to ensure a regular and ample supply for the islands, which would ensure increased means for bringing home the crops, whereas it was notorious that for want of a sufficiency of ships in the trade, more than 20,000 hogsheads of sugar were left in Jamaica in the last years, and great quantities in the Leeward islands. Can his majesty's ministers, under such circumstances as these, refuse an enquiry? Can they so treat men entitled to respect and consideration? And I will venture to ask also, will they so set at defiance the public opinion? without being able to suggest any reason whatever for such a refusal, for as yet we have heard none, nor can I form an imagination of a plausible one. If they are confident they are right, why not take to themselves the triumph of proving that, and exposing our error? By refusing investigation, the impression on the minds of all impartial people must be unfavourable ministers: there has been no enquiry even before the committee of trade to justify this measure, a thing likewise unheard of. The noble lord has suggested the difficulties that may attend regular convoys being granted, from the gigantic efforts of our enemies for the destruction of our trade in this war: what answer has been given by the admiralty to the question to them respecting convoys before I left the committee for trade I cannot tell; but after the almost total destruction of the naval power of all our enemies, I did not expect to hear any dread expressed of their gigantic efforts on the seas; I certainly entertained a hope that one of the good consequences of our great and brilliant naval victories would be a facility in protecting our trade in every part of the world.—I cannot be less anxious than the noble lord, or any other member, that there should be no uncertainly or fluctuation in the supplies to the colonies in the West Indies, as I have as deep an interest there, in proportion to my whole fortune, as most men in this country; many of my nearest connections 691 have also considerable property in them: that consideration, however, cannot turn my attention from other interests both of a public and private nature; but let me not be understood to take any great merit to myself in that respect, because I am acting under a conviction that the islands would be as regularly as regularly and as well supplied in British ships, as they ale now even in time of war, if convoys can be furnished. In time of peace nobody can doubt it; experience has put that matter completely out of doubt. I trust, therefore, the right hon. gent. (Mr. Fox) will reconsider his opinion of the probable necessity for relaxing our navigation laws in peace, as the promulgation of it may do incalculable mischief if uncontradicted It we look to the effect likely to be produced by this measure to our continental colonies, we shall not find the ground of objections weaker: the system which has been pursued since 1784, has been nearly as mischievous to these as to our navigation; instead of advancing rapidly in cultivation as they were doing previously to that time, that has been checked, and their trade with the West Indies has fallen off very considerably, as appears by the accounts on your table. This evil is the more serious, and should be the more guarded against, as in the event of a breach with America, it is on our remaining settlements on the continent that the West Indies must principally rely for their supplies.—On looking on this bill apparently so simple in its provisions, gentlemen are not aware how many important interests are likely to be injured by it. The American ships which supply our islands with lumber and provisions, do not confine themselves to these articles, nor indeed does this bill restrain them to such; they have been in the practice, as we have learned from the governors and naval commanders, as well as from seizures made of cargoes to the islands, great quantities of East India piece goods, (which from the superior advantages they have in the Indian trade they can afford much cheaper than the British merchants), as well as German linens, not only for the consumption of the islands, but for the free-port trade with the Spaniards. It has been said that British ships may do this as well as foreigners, but experience has proved that they did not do so; nor is it likely they should: American vessels in that trade are chiefly of small burthen, and can more easily escape than large shins, and there is a further security against such practices British ships, as they may be followed 692 and seized on subsequent information.—The Irish provision trade is also entirely overlooked by this measure. The Americans, who had in some of the islands been materially checked, and in others entirely restrained in furnishing supplies of beef and pork, will by this bill be set free from all restraint, will by this bill be set free from all restraint, and will infallibly undersell the merchants of Ireland.— The noble lord has not yet endeavoured to shew the contrary, but has dwelt on the necessity of pursuing the system of relaxation as a necessary one, contenting himself with round assertions that the West India colonies cannot exist under the West India colonies cannot exist under any other; now that is the whole matter that is at issue between us, and for which I so earnestly implore enquiry. Grant us that and we will be satisfied. If the interest of our navigation must give way to the preservation of our colonies, let us at least know that the sacrifice we are about to make is a necessary one. Many other objections to this measure occur to me, but I fear I have already tired the committee with a statement of these important points. The noble lord says it is perfectly right to shift the responsibility from the governors of the islands to the privy council, but the slightest attention will convince gentlemen, that if you release the governors from responsibility, you leave none any where; they are the only persons to whom any either can or ought to attach, because they alone can have any knowledge whatever of the circumstances which should lead to opening the ports to foreigners; with a severe responsibility upon them, they will never do so except in cases of real and pressing necessity, as on that their indemnity must depend. By what possible means can ministers in this country have a knowledge of famine or distress in the West Indies, in time to instruct the governors to admit supplies in American ships? It is an insult to our understanding to talk of it. If this bill shall pass into law, there will be neither restraint nor responsibility of any sort or any where. The noble lord has, however (somewhat unguardedly perhaps), assigned a reason for this measure of a very different nature from any I have yet alluded to: he has told us that the governors of the islands cannot know all the political circumstances which should guide our conduct in regulating our America. That indeed opens a new and wide field for discussion; it admits of a possibility that it may be thought right, from considerations of policy, to relax 693 not only the laws, of this country, hitherto held sacred, but what the writers of all nations have uniformly decided to be the fundamental law of Europe: that the parent state shall enjoy, exclusively, t e trade to its own colonies. In American newspapers, however, loud complaints have been made of our navigation laws having been enforced, as acts of injustice, and it is notorious there is an impression of this sort in the United States; this is surely not the season therefore for abandoning the principle of them. I am confident no one can rationally doubt this who considers with attention the relative situation of this country and America at the present moment. We are, however, about to give up gratuitously to America an important point, which it seems she has not even asked for, either as a matter of right or of favour, and which it is more our interest now than it ever before was to withhold from her. The noble lord has told us, that although the principle of the navigation law was a wise one when it was passed, it has ceased to be so; and that many instances may occur in which it may be expedient to depart from it. I am inclined to think, however, that his lordship has taken up that opinion from some recent publications, in which there are confident assertions founded on false facts. One of the authors I allude to has told you, that it is good to employ foreign ships in war, that we may have our own seamen for the navy. Can that gentleman tell us where, in such case, will be found a nursery for raising Seamen to man our fleets in future? The largest proportion of your seamen certainly come from the merchants' service, and if you dry up that source you will hereafter find the inconvenience of it, and will probably recur to a due observance of your navigation laws, when it will be too late to derive any advantage from your doing so. But however important as nurseries doing seamen the shipping of G. Britain and of her colonies is, it is not exclusively to that we are to look for resources; the fisheries both at home and on the coasts of our continental colonies as well as at Newfoundland are very extensive and important sources; a due encouragement given to them might be essentially useful, and afford another reason for a due observance of the navigation laws. After all I have said, however, in favour of maintaining those, I do not mean to contend they ought not in any instance to he deviated from: I could not indeed consistently do 694 so, because I have acted otherwise; in I cases that might be beneficial to our commerce and manufactures,. and could not be injurious to our navigation, there is an act, 43 Geo. III. c. 133. s. 16. in force, to permit neutral ships to come from enemies ports, from whence, of course, no British ship can come; and another, 42 Geo. III. c. 80. continued by 44. Geo. III. c. 30. which repealed all the suspended acts of the last war, and confining the importation in neutral ships to the produce of foreign possessions in the West Indies, the cargoes of which shall be warehoused for exportation; a third which admits hides and tallow under particular circumstances, is hardly worth alluding to; some of the acts in the last war (originating with what was called the Dutch property act) certainly gave advantages to foreign merchants as well as to foreign ship-owners, because the cargoes imported under those in neutral ships were warehoused, and the duties not paid till the goods were taken out, either for home consumption or exportation; the foreigners saving thereby the advance of money for the duties, and paying only for the quantities taken out, while the importers in British ships paid the duties on importation and for the whole quantities imported. My reason for believing that British ships can carry all the articles which our colonies may want, arises from very long and laborious enquiries which I have made from ship-owners both in G. Britain and in the West Indies, and others who are best qualified to give information upon the subject; I am prepared even to enter on the detail as to the times when they should sail from this country, take in their lading in America, &c. &c. but it is unnecessary to trouble the house with these particulars: I will establish the whole clearly before a committee, if I am allowed to go to one. I will undertake to prove that the planters would be regularly supplied with all they want as early as shall be necessary, and at au extra expence, not exceeding 2 per cent. on the freight. I have only to add, that in the event of hurricanes, or other unforeseen emergencies, the governors must unavoidably have the same discretionary power to open the ports, that the government of this country always exercises in such cases at home. These are the grounds upon, which I ask the noble lord to consent, and wish the house to agree to go into an enquiry before a committee; no possible delay can be occasioned thereby; I will pledge myself that it shall be closed before the papers 695 now copying for our information can be on the table; if it is not, I will agree to the bill proceeding without waiting for the result of that enquiry; I will attend the, committee myself from day to day for as many hours as shall be necessary, and I am sure there are other gentleman who will do the same, till the report shall be made. Is it possible that under these circumstances enquiry can be refused? You have at your door imploring for it a great number of men very highly respectable in their several situations as merchants, ship-owners, ship-builders, persons in the various, branches of trade dependant on the building and equipping ships; you know that not an hour's delay can be occasioned by your hearing them, and will you, or can you refuse to do so? I will not yet believe that you will do so unprecedented a thing, because I am certain no reason can be assigned in support of it. In every commercial and political point of view the subject is a most important one, and one respecting which (above all others) the fullest investigation should take place before a material alteration is made in it; in the present instance there has been none either before the council or in this house. Let me therefore repeat my earnest entreaties, on the part of the public and of the petitioners, that this matter may be carefully examined before a committee above-stairs.
denied, that by any perversion of reasoning it could be established, that his majesty's ministers had insinuated to such a respectable body of men as the ship owners connected with the present subject, that they were blockheads, and that they did not understand their own interests. Nor would the charge, that they were precluded from a fair and candid hearing appear better founded, when it was considered that leave was given to the persons concerned to have their cause pleaded by counsel, at the bar of the house, and that now they declined availing themselves of this permission, and thought such a proceeding unnecessary. The right hon. gent. had stated, that it was desirable to allow every case to stand on the exigency of the moment. This would be the consequence of the proposed bill. Did it go peremptorily to order the ports to be opened? No. The language of it was "when from the necessity of the case it should appear to his majesty, with the advice of his privy council, that the opening of the ports was required." The ship-owners wished for security. Security would be granted 696 to them by this bill. What security had they when, the opening of the ports was at the discretion of the governors of the West India islands? They could be no judges of the state of our markets, nor of the time of the sailing of our convoys; neither could they judge if the relief to be afforded from this country could be sufficient to meet the wants experienced there. What security, however, had they not by the present bill? Had they not the pledge of that duty which his majesty's ministers owed to the country, that while they endeavoured to foresee the wants of the colonies, and devised the best means of supplying what might be necessary, they, would do so with every regard to the interests of the ship owners of this country? Would not they themselves have an opportunity of going to ministers and shewing them that from the quantity of tonnage cleared out to the plantations there was no necessity, or that they ought not to open the ports? The bill, therefore, gave a security to the ship owners, which it was utterly impossible they could have in any other way.
§ Sir C. Price
had taken great pains to inform himself on this subject. He had consulted those who were most conversant with it, and on the whole he was convinced that if this bill passed into a law, it would be at tended with the most pernicious effects. Government might as well say to the ship-owners, "Discharge your men, take no more apprentices, build no more vessels." We should lose not only the carrying trade, but a great nursery for our seamen, which would be transported to the other side of the Atlantic, an event that he earnestly deprecated. Feeling, therefore, the necessity of pausing on such an important and dangerous measure, he must second the amendment of his right hon. friend.
§ Sir W. Young
thought it right that hon. members should be anxious for the commerce and manufactures of the country, but they ought also to attend to the necessities of the West Indies; and certain he was, that the colonies could not be supplied from this country in the two great articles of necessity, provisions, and lumber, nor by any other than America; he should therefore support the bill.
§ Sir W Curtis
urged the propriety of hearing the ship owners before a committee of the house, that they might have an opportunity of proving the truth of their statements. For his part, there were two 697 important parts of our constitution, the Habeas Corpus Act, and the Navigation Act, which in his opinion ought seldom to be interfered with, and never suspended but in cases of the most urgent necessity.
§ Sir F. Baring
said, in all cases the navigation laws gave way to necessity; when we wanted provisions, we gave invitations to all nations to furnish them, and never confined them to do it in British ships; on the contrary, we took them as we could get them. He insisted on it, the shipowners of this country could not supply the colonies, and it would be dangerous and cruel, as well as impolitic, to trust to them, at the risk of starving thousands, in case they should fail in the attempt. He was therefore a friend to the bill.
§ Mr. Alderman Prinsep
had no objection to leaving the exercise of a discretion with ministers, convinced that they would not abuse it. There were, however, clauses in the bill which alarmed him. One in particular, where the importation into the West India islands was extended to all goods whatever, and to "manufactures," a word which he thought ought to be omitted, as all the Islands could require under the bill was lumber. By another clause, a liberty of exportation was given, extending to sugars, &c. which he thought ought to be omitted. If these alterations were understood to be agreed to, he should not object to the bill, otherwise he must oppose its further progress.
said, that generally speaking, he saw no objection to the alteration proposed by the hon. member.
§ Mr. Perceval
rose and spoke as follows: —If, sir, this bill goes into a committee, I have no doubt that the noble lord will acquiesce in the amendment proposed by the worthy magistrate who spoke last, and by which some of the objections to the bill will unquestionably be in a degree removed. But however those objections may be removed. But however those objections may be remove, I apprehend that after all that can be effected by giving way to the desire of the worthy magistrate, the house will upon reflection be of opinion that there will still remain objections in principle, which will render it extremely unwise to pass this bill in any shape whatever.—An hon. baronet (sir F. Baring) whose authority on mercantile subjects stands (in this house as well as every where else) extremely high, has given us to understand, that he is decidedly of opinion, that the ship-owners of this country who oppose this bill are desiring to have the monopoly of a trade which, if they had 698 that monopoly, they could not carry on: that the trade which they seek, and which they say they are ready and eager to enter into, is actually impracticable. Now, sir, with all the respect and deference which I most unfeigned feel for the opinion of that worthy baronet, and without pretending to have an opinion of my own worthy to be mentioned with his upon any commercial question, cannot forbear from remarking, that this is only opinion against opinion, and judgment against judgment, not mine against his, for that I should not have the presumption to state, but the opinion of great, intelligent, and wealthy merchants of this city, against the opinion of the worthy baronet; and these merchants, thus qualified to judge, give this pledge of the sincerity and strength of their conviction, that they declare themselves ready and willing to embark in this very trade, and risk their interests on its success: and, I am confident, that however valuable and deseryedly eminent the opinion of the worthy baronet is upon this subject, yet the house must feel that it would be too much deference to be paid to any opinion, and I am persuaded that no person would be more sorry than the worthy baronet himself, that such deference should be paid to his, if the house should rest, so far satisfied with the authority of that opinion, as to preclude any body of men in this country from having a full investigation of a subject so into resting to them, before any final decision upon it was adopted. What I wish is, that this point may be investigated by, a committee nominated by this house, in order that we may be enabled to judge between the two opposite opinions, and to determine whether those who are concerned in the trade, who are acquainted with it, who are disposed to embark their property and their interest in it, have formed the true opinion, or whether the hon. baronet is right in his? the hon baronet, had he been in the house on a former night when this subject was discussed, would have heard on behalf of those who oppose this bill, merchants in the city of the most respectable character, and of the first intelligence, a declaration that they were now actually engaging in this trade; that they had actually taken up shipping for the purpose of carrying it on; nay, that in so doing they were not engaging in any new untried speculation, but were merely revelling back to their former trade; that they had done the same before, had taken these voyages, had carried on that very 699 trade which the hon. baronet deems impracticable, and were now disposed to embark in the same again, provided that such protection should be given to it as they asked; provided convoys should be afforded to them; provided that facility of opening the ports to neutrals Inch had lately obtained, should no longer be continued; and that the trade should be properly secured to the British subjects, under these circumstances. All we intreat is, that the house should not be hurried on with such precipitate and eager haste, without a pause for enquiry upon a subject which the hon. baronet himself, and all who support the measure, admit to be of extreme importance. All that is proposed by my right hon. friend is, that there should be a temporary suspension of the proceeding on this bill, until a short enquiry shall have taken place into some of the leading facts on which its merits must depend—the whole delay on account of this will not be more than four days: four days is all the time which is asked for the purpose of ascertaining the fact, on which there exists at present such a diversity of opinion. Now, sir, I do think that this house can hardly do otherwise than grant the request of my right hon. friend; it is only to follow that course which is consistent with the well-understood practice of this house, constituting as it were a part of its character, the practice of giving a ready hearing to every thing that can be offered upon army subject which is before them; and more especially on a subject of such vital importance to the best interests of our trade and navigation as this is. When the first proposal was made for a committee above-stairs, the delay which it would occasion was then stated to be very short; from some reasons moving as much from the other side of the house as from any other quarter, 14 days have elapsed since that proposal was made; during less than one half of that period, the whole of the enquiry proposed by my right hon. friend might be gone through, and then we should not have had to rest the debate on the opinion of one individual or another, who may casually deliver his sentiments in the house, but we should have had the authentic opinion and report of a committee, drawing their judgment from a proper source, namely, the evidence which they would have examined. I am sure the house must think it extremely unfortunate, that such a course as not taken at first; that would have been satisfactory 700 to us all; the committee would have stated the facts, would have shown the grounds on which they had proceeded; so that every member of the house would have been able to judge for himself as to the correctness of their statement or the fairness of their conclusion. But, sir, I now feel indeed that there is a very substantial ground for the conduct of his majesty's ministers, in endeavouring to hasten this bill forward. It is now apparent why they should be so desirous of passing this bill into a law; they have a ground which I was not apprized of in the least degree, until I came into the house this day. The order of the secretary of state, which I now hold in my hand, and which I presently will state, sufficiently explains it.—We are entitled, and that from the admissions of the hon. gent. who spoke last, to say that this bill is at present capable of a variety of constructions, and that it is full of errors and detects, and might, if passed in its present shape, most mischievously affect our trade in the West Indies. That admission indeed of itself, I should have imagined, might have been a tolerable good reason why the bill should not go through the house in haste; but we are told that the bill itself provides that it is never to be acted upon, except in cases of absolute necessity; and the hon. gent. thinks there is great weight in that circumstance. It is that which seems particularly to reconcile him to the passing of this bill, that the power given to the privy council is guarded by the proof which they are required to have of the necessity of acting before they put it into execution; that they must, therefore, before they give any directions or instructions that any thing should be done in this matter, make all the necessary enquiries, and that ministers will not act blindly under the discretion when they possess it. The hon. gent. from his confidence in the present administration, may he disposed to give these powers, in full trust that they will use them with this discretion. But, sir, before this house gives the power to the privy council, that is to the present ministers which this bill is calculated to give them, I could have wished that those ministers had shewn some disposition not to make an unnecessary and inconsiderate use of it, that such directions as they might give would only be from time to time, as the exigency of the case may require; and that they would so guardedly conduct themselves as to be able to correct their errors, if they should find out that their 701 conduct was erroneous; at least it might be required, that they should have done nothing from which the contrary disposition might be inferred; that they would have taken no step without making some enquiry into the prudence of it; that above all they should have made no order on the subject matter of a bill which they intended to bring into parliament, before the sense of parliament had been taken on it; and that they would not have made any order whatever upon this subject at any time, under any pretence, for an unlimited period; that is what might have been expected. The house shall now see, sir, what has been the fact. A right hon. gent. (Mr. Windham) whose situation as secretary of state of the colonies, makes it proper, at least, if not necessary, for him to be present at this discussion, although he does not seem to have any disposition to attend to it, is now, I am sorry to observe, about to withdraw from the house, at the moment when I am going to make an observation on his conduct as a minister, when I am going to advert to an act which he has done of a most extraordinary nature. After all that has been said in defence of this bill, on account of its giving the privy council power to act only in cases of emergency, and that they cannot do any thing under it, except in cases of proved necessity, and that much of its merit depends on its not giving the privy council power to act, except in such cases of emergency or extreme necessity, what will the house say when I tell them that I now hold in my hand an order issued by that right hon. secretary three months before the time in which I have the honour of addressing this house upon the subject; that that order authorizes the governors of the West India islands to do that which the hon. gent. seems to think would be improper for the privy council to do after this bill is passed:—not to suspend, during an emergency of proved necessity, for a limited time, the law which prohibits importation by foreigners into the colonies; but generally, indefinitely, during the continuance of the war, to suspend the navigation laws as far as they respect this subject: and this three months before he deigns to come to parliament to ask for power to do so? This, sir, may be a proper act, no man can doubt that: but it was done in a very improper manner, during the sitting of parliament, without asking its authority, without waiting for its sanction; and, sir, it is no less strange and unneces- 702 sary than it improper, unless indeed we are to suppose that ministers are actuated by some political motives which they do not think proper disclose to us, or unless they may think it a will serve the shew the authority which they have in this house, that they take measures of this kind, anticipating the determination of parliament, for the purpose of displaying their own power, and the confidence which they feel that this house is prepared to sanction whatever they may think proper to dictate. And are we now to be told that we are safe in trusting to the discretion of these gentlemen, that they will make none but a right use of the legal power which this bill will give them, when we have this instance before us, even where they assumed the power before it was legal, of acting upon it with so little discretion and reserve? What shall we say, after this, of the discretionary power to be given to such ministers by the present bill, of their limiting the exercise of it to the case of a proved emergency—when we see that before they were well warm in their seats, and before they had had time to make any enquiry into the existence of the emergency, or the probable duration of it, they assume an authority which the law had not given them, and act upon it to an extent which their friends admit would have been wrong, even if time authority had legally existed? This order, however, is time substantial reason which his majesty's ministers have for pressing this bill through the house; they want an act of parliament to countenance them in the illegal act which they have committed, and if enquiry should produce time proof that no justifiable necessity exists, the same enquiry they feel would produce their own condemnation, for assuming a power which had not only not been granted by parliament, but which parliament might determine was not proper to be granted at all, Sir, what fell from the noble lord makes it difficult to know, exactly what is to be the intended operation of this bill, because, until all the clauses are gone through, we know not what articles are to be specified in the bill, as those which alone may be permitted for importation. The noble lord agrees generally to limit the bill according to the ideas of the worthy alderman who spoke last; I know not, therefore, what power is intended to be ultimately given to his majesty in council, with respect to the articles to be imported; but I apprehend that as the bill now stands, every article of the produce of the West India islands may be exported 703 from them to every part of the world.—(No,no, from the ministerial side of the house.)—As this is doubted, sir I will read the words of the act, that they may speak for themselves.—(Here the hon. and learned gent. read the clause in the act of parliament, ending with the words, to import to, and export from any of the West India islands, &c.)—By these words it is evident there is no limit to the exportation, neither us the quantity nor quality of articles, nor the places to which they may be carried. How all this is to be altered I know not, but so it stands at present. We have argued it, as if the importation was to be permitted only from America: it is, however, no such thing; every neutral country, as well as,America, may under this bill as it now stands, be permitted to import any article of the growth and produce of their respective countries. On this part of the bill much remains to be explained, and we must wait to be informed upon it, and to understand it, till we come into the committee. My impression, sir, of the whole of the bill, is most undoubtedly, that it is perfectly impolitic and unjustifiable, because iris perfectly unnecessary. The authors of the measure, indeed, found it upon necessity. They tell us their reason for introducing it, is to afford necessary relief to the colonies to save them from starving, and to enable us and them to profit by their produce. If it were necessary for these objects, I should indeed agree that these objects would justify it; but it is demonstrable, nay, it is demonstrated, that it is not necessary for them, they are attained; they have been secured by the system, as it at present prevails, and which has been acted upon during the present war.—In all the history of parliamentary proceedings, it seems to me, therefore, there is no parallel to this measure. I know of nothing equal to the character of inconsiderate improvidence and impollicy which attaches to it. We are all agreed that the system of the navigation laws is most essential to our greatness and our existence, and should not be broken in upon, but in cases of grave necessity: yet the noble lord's own statement, his own argument to prove that necessity, shews that it is unnecessary, distinctly proves that no such bill is required.—For the last 13 years, he-says the colonies in the West Indies have been obliged to be supplied from America with every thing they have wanted. The law, prohibiting such supply, has been obliged to be broken. Notwithstanding then the exist- 704 ence of the law, which the noble lord contends it is absolutely necessary should be altered to enable the colonies to be supplied, and to protect them from starvation, it stands admitted, that for 13 years the colonies have been in fact supplied. This I say is a practical proof that the bill is unnecessary. I say it cannot be stated to be necessary to have the law altered, to enable you to do that which you have been able to do without that alteration of the law, for 13 years together. I admit, indeed, that this supply has been by an infraction of the law, and that as a general proposition, it cannot be doubted that it is better, by parliamentary provision, prospectively to legalize any act, than retrospectively to indemnify the illegal performance of it: and therefore whether there is not more seemliness, more legislative propriety in suspending the law, as is intended by this bill, than to leave it to be broken, may be matter of argument, and it will depend upon the weight of the objections to be stated against such proceedings, whether it ought to be adopted or not. But it is impossible to found the measure upon that sort of necessity which the noble lord has asserted, a necessity which is supposed to be created by the utter starvation of the colonies, and destruction of their produce, which, but for this measure, would ensue; there must be an end, therefore, of all the declamation we have heard about this starving and ruin of the colonies; it is wholly inapplicable to the case; it is totally beside the merits of this question; for we find, nay, it is the foundation of the argument for the bill, that we have had an opportunity of supplying the colonies with provisions, and of bringing home their produce for 13 years during war, notwithstanding the law as it now stands; the argument therefore, built on the necessity of this measure is at an end, as that necessity is shewn not to exist. Then comes the consideration whether or not policy demands, or even admits of this measure: or whether the impropriety of continually submitting to the breach of the law, continually recognizing that breach, and continually indemnifying it, as has certainly been the case, is not so objectionable as to outweigh the objections which can be urged against the bill which is now proposed? Now, sir, as I have said already, I am perfectly willing to admit that as a general proposition (but not applicable to the state of our colonies) it is as unfit to continue the law in such a state, as to make the breach of it 705 necessary: and that it is better to suspend or relax it, when you can reasonably anticipate the necessity of breaking it. As a general proposition, I say again, I am ready to admit it. But the question here is, first, whether it is a proposition which is true, as applicable to the particular situation of the colonies, with respect to the navigation laws? and another question naturally arising out of the first, is, whether it is wise to act upon that proposition, supposing it to be generally true at the present moment? Upon the first question, it must be remembered, that the main ground on which it is contended that authority should be given to the privy council, instead of suffering the power of relaxing the laws of navigation, and the power of opening their ports to remain with the governors of the islands, as it has done of late, is this:—That the situation of those governors, their constant, daily and familiar intercourse with the planters, who are naturally led to seek the cheapest mode of supplying the islands, exposes thorn to exaggerated statements of the necessities of those islands, and to a pressure from the importunity of the planters which is almost irresistible. But I apprehend the arguments from the importunity to which the governors are exposed, shews the necessity of making it more difficult for them to yield to it, and of protecting them from the effect of that importunity, rather than the propriety of making it more easy, by vesting them with the discretion which this bill through the privy-council would give them. At present the governor, if he suspends these laws, must suspend them under his own responsibility; he must be able to justify the violation of the law, by making out a strong case of necessity; and the noble lord seems to think that this is highly improper, for that the governors of the West India islands can know nothing of those various matters, the consideration of which ought to govern the decision of the question, whether our ports shall be opened to foreigners or not? that they can know nothing of the state of the market here, of the general circumstances of Europe, of the state of convoys, of the prudence of our ships sailing for the islands; of their readiness to sail; of what they are about to carry with them to the supply of the islands: and that all these things are known only, or best known to the privy-council; that a governor of one of the West India islands can know nothing of them. Now, sir, he certainly cannot know much of any of these matters; but he knows that which is more valuable for the 706 present purpose than all the rest put together; he knows the state of the island that seeks to be relieved for want of supplies infinitely better than the government at home; he knows its wants, and possibly the means of its relief, which government here cannot know. Now, let us suppose that under the probability of being able to provide the islands from hence, government were to give directions to shut the ports of the islands, and rigorously to enforce the navigation laws, what would be the state of the governors in the West Indies if the islands should be in distress when such directions should arrive? precisely the same situation, I contend, as it is now. For the refusal of the privy-council to authorize the opening of the ports, would not make the obligation on the governors not to admit of foreign importations stronger than the navigation laws make it at present. A necessity similar to that which justifies their opening the ports now, would justify it equally when this bill is pressed, for they would not under the authority of any law or order to enforce that law he led to course the absolute starvation of the islands: after this law passes, therefore, the same inconvenience most again subsist, the same system be resorted to, unless the privy-council is uniformly to authorise the importation; and if that is the intention, it would be more candid and manly to avow it at once, and let parliament itself make this alteration, instead of leaving it to the privy council. But government are to send out, under the authority of this bill, directions to the governors of the West India islands how they are to conduct themselves; why cannot they do so now without any authority under this bill? Can any power which they may derive from this act of parliament give them additional information as to the propriety of opening or of keeping shut at any particular time the ports in the West Indies? depending, as we are told that question does, on the state of Europe, and of the markets here, the state of convoys, or the state of ships and cargoes, on which the privy council are supposed to know all, and the governors of the islands to know nothing? They may as well send out all this information without this bill as with it. But then, on the other hand, when we know that the necessary supplies for the West India islands are not to be had from hence, but that they must be had front the American market, what reason is there for supposing that government here are better judges of the mode of obtaining such supplies, and 707 the necessity of obtaining them through foreigners, than the governors of the islands are? I contend, and contend, I think, irrefragably, that government here can know nothing of the state of the islands, or at least very little at any time in comparison with the knowledge of the governors of those islands; that government can have no means of knowing any thing upon the subject, except such as they derive from the governors; that with such materials it is impossible for them by orders from hence to meet the necessities of those islands; that they can seldom, if ever, send instructions from hence in time to be acted upon, so as to be useful to the islands in the hour of distress; but there the governors must know, and can act upon the necessity of the moment. This, sir, leads me to think that it would be better to leave the law as it is, and to leave the governors of the islands to act under their own responsibility, as they have done, rather than to remove from them all the responsibility, and to shift it on government, who, however well disposed, cannot have such good means of judging as the governors on the spot. And I feel, sir, an increased reluctance to repose this confidence in government, when I find that the present and prevailing opinion of its members is not to issue reluctantly such orders as may from time to time appear to be called for by necessity; but that the present mode is to issue general and sweeping orders at once, nay, the very desire to have this extended power which the bringing in of this bill implies, is a reason why it should not be given them, as it could not have been asked for but from the wish to exert it. I should therefore say, that I would not assent to any law to enlarge the discretionary power of a government, whose course of conduct was of this description. Gentlemen are therefore running away from the subject, when upon supposition that the discretion of the privy council will prevent an unnecessary use of the powers under the bill, they refuse to grant an enquiry, to see whether the necessities of the colonies could not be supplied by leaving the law as it is. The time such an enquiry would take up, however great, would be no argument against the propriety of it; but the time would, in fact, be extremely short. The conduct of government in issuing the order to which I have alluded, makes it a moral certainty, that if that law pass, (such is the opinion and impression of his majesty's present government) that the whole Power given under this bill will be employ- 708 ed, and be continued during the whole of the present war. I say this from the best authority—from the actions of his majesty's ministers; from the directions to that effect already given; and I am confirmed in this opinion by what fell from the right hon. gent. (Mr. Fox) on a former discussion of this subject, when he said there was no likelihood that any event could occur, in which the exercise of the discretion by the privy council would not be necessary during the whole of the present war. The truth of the matter is, that the government has no idea of the possibility of this trade being carried on in any other way than they now propose it to be. The same opinion prevailed at the close of the last war; but an enquiry was then instituted, and it was found that it could be carried on by our own shipping. No man can doubt, that if the same trade be possible during the war, that it ought to be encouraged; that it would be infinitely desirable not to suspend any part of the navigation laws: why then refuse ourselves the opportunity of knowing the fact? of affording satisfaction to those who allege that the trade is practicable? who say they are ready to embark in it? In satisfaction to our own country we ought to hear them, in order to shew that we do not sacrifice any of its interests unnecessarily; and even if we were convinced that these gentlemen have taken up a wrong impression, we ought to hear them, if it were only to satisfy them of their error. But as this is not the opinion of the right hon. gent. (Mr. Fox), nor that of the other secretary of state, and as they have so mane other points to attend to, what chance is there of their instituting the enquiry? The enquiry must be made by the house or it will not be made at all.—Above all, the house would do well to consider the doubt expressed by the right hon. gent. (Mr. Fox), whether the provision of this bill will not require to be extended even to a time of peace; that is to me, sir, a most alarming doubt coming from such a quarter. It is true, indeed, he stated no fixed opinion upon the subject; but he stated his mind to be in doubt upon it, and if his mind doubts whether the policy of this measure would not be applicable to a time of peace, we can have but very little hope that he or any of his colleagues will consent to institute an enquiry into the possibility of dispensing with it during war. The house will do well to consider that it is now called upon to adopt a measure, the principle, of which is to legalize the suspension 709 of that system of navigation law, which has long been felt not only in this house but out of it; not only in this country but out out of it; not only in Europe but over all the globe, to have been the foundation of all our naval power, of our real strength, of all our greatness, from which is derived our glory; which has made us what we are, the admiration and envy of the world; a system adopted and followed up by the wisdom of our most enlightened ancestors, and recommended to our regard and veneration from the benefits which we have uniformly derived from it; benefits which other nations are endeavouring to grasp from us, and which such measures as these will tend to fling into their hands. Sir, these are serious considerations, and if ever there was a period when the policy of such a measure as this could be particularly doubtful in point of time, the present is that period. The world supposes at least, that there are at this moment many serious points, points of the greatest delicacy, connected with our colonial monopoly, and our belligerent rights as affecting our navigation system, depending between us and America. What can be the prudence then at this time, of adopting any measure which shall shew, that our principles of policy, whether respecting our colonial or our belligerent rights as connected with our navigation system, hang in any degree more loosely about us, than they did at any former period? Whatever may be the sentiments of government on the measures which may arise out of these points so under discussion, whatever may be the disposition or the determination of his majesty's government on the subject of them, if contrary to every state policy which has always guided us, our government is about to make concessions (which I trust is not the case, though I fear it is) on the subject of that main bulwark of our strength, and foundation of our power, our navigation laws and our colonial system, policy requires that they should not betray a less regard for those laws, and for that system, than was felt by our ancestors. For they will render the sacrifice which they may be prepared to make of less value by sheaving the light estimation in which they hold what they concede, and will purchase less returns of gratitude or other considerations for what they sacrifice. But if on the contrary this system of our policy is intended to be upheld; if at the time we insist upon upholding it, we appear by our conduct to undervalue it; our adherence will be attributed to our pride, to our obstinacy, to our ill will, 710 to any thing in short but those true principles of just and rational policy on which alone our determination to adhere to it, ought to appear to rest.—In addition to this, sir, there are circumstances in the present time which I should think make the policy of this act of parliament the most dangerous that ever was, or ever could be adopted in this country. For what do gentlemen say in support of it? they are loud to assert that for the last 13 years we have seen that we cannot supply our West India colonies without the assistance of America. To legislate upon this principle, what is it but to tell them and the world that America may do what she pleases with us. The honble gentl. a minister opposite, cheers at this idea, as if he seemed to think it a pleasing consideration that we cannot exist, that is, that our colonies cannot exist, without America; that we must have her assistance or we cannot supply them. Surely every man must doubt the policy of telling America this, by the solemn assurance of an act of parliament. It cannot be very wise to enact laws which will have the effect of telling the Americans that we are in their hands, that they may do what they please with us, that if they shut their ports against us our colonies in the West Indies must perish. Is it wise for the legislature of this country to speak this language to America, especially at a time when some persons of considerable influence there, do not seem indisposed to quarrel with us? But if the policy of such conduct be doubtful, what shall we say to the spirit and the dignity of it. The chosen opportunity for bringing in this bill is just upon the arrival of intelligence from America of an act having been passed there giving to the president conditional powers of shutting up their ports against our trade, according as he does or does not receive satisfaction on given points within a certain period from this country. If we by passing this act do that which is convenient to America, which seems to favour her views towards our colonies, it will be attributed to a principle of fear in this country, impressed upon our councils by this act of the American legislature, a principle of action most baneful to a state at any time, most particularly so to ours at the present, and the manifestation of which would be as detrimental to the interests, as disgraceful to the character of this nation.—Upon the whole then of this great question, it appears to me, sir, that we have made out these propositions: that -all the necessity for this measure arising from the fear of the starvation of the West 711 India colonies, and from the impossibility of their getting their supplies but through the means of this act of parliament, is wholly done away by our having shewn indisputably that they have been actually and sufficiently supplied, before this act was thought of; that the loss which has been sustained in our shipping and navigation interests by the departure which has been admitted from our navigation system, has been demonstrated; and the consequent necessity. of endeavouring to adhere to our former practice, instead of systematically and authoritatively abandoning it still further, cannot, with any shew of reason, he denied; that it is our interest to hold in our hands the power, and to shew that we possess the means of carrying the necessary supplies in our own ships to the colonies, instead of being at this particular moment obliged to acknowledge their necessary dependance on America; and that the political consideration of the whole question with reference to our maritime strength, and the great interests depend upon that strength, and with reference to our honour and dignity in the character of our conduct and proceedings at this moment towards America; that the adoption of this measure will be most unwise and most impolitic, called for and justified by no necessity, recommended by no utility, and under all the circumstances attending it, as disgraceful to our character, as it is useless and unnecessary to our interests; and therefore speaking for myself, I must say, that whatever alterations may he adopted in any of the provisions of the bill in the committee, I must continue to object to it. The noble lord may in the committee remove the objections which others have to it, my objections are radical!y against its principle, such as cannot be cured in a committee. But the object of my right hon. friend near me (Mr. Rose), I can assent to most readily, because his object is enquiry to give information to the house, without which the house cannot with propriety proceed to act, because without it the house cannot be said to act with its eves open; if therefore gentlemen on the other side will yield to his motion, and let the consideration of this bill be postponed for another week, and in the mean time go into an enquiry above stairs, it will not only be doing the house justice, and acting seemly and decently with regard to this great national subject, hut it will also be proceeding with no more than due respect and attention to those who conceive their interests so much concerned as to apprehend 712 their ruin on its passing into a law. But however well or ill founded those apprehensions may be, it must be admitted to be wise at all events in this house to proceed only on information on which it may rely, and to refuse to proceed without it, and not to confess by its conduct that it is compelled blindly and upon confidence to adopt this measure in ignorance, and as it w ere in contempt of those dangers to our navigation interests, and our maratime preponderance, which those most interested and best informed, anticipated from its adoption.
The Attorney General
argued, that there were no manufactures carried from America to the colonies, but only food for the slaves, and a few other articles which could not be supplied by Great Britain. The law had been violated during a period of 13 years, and at the discretion of the governors of the colonies. It was said, that lately, government had recovered from its trance, and that some alteration was to have been proposed. But to go on in this course of violating the law was admitted to be generally speaking, a monstrous proceeding. It was even contrary to the oath of the governors, who, in exercising this discretion, were committing something like perjury, and he was surprised to hear his learned friend contend that this was a better system than the one now proposed. They wanted to postpone the further proceeding on this bill for 7 days, and why? For the sake of inquiry. An inquiry into what? No inquiry had been thought of for 13 years, when all was at the discretion of the governors, who might open the ports a month before our ships had arrived at the colonies, and by that means render the out-fits almost useless: And yet the hon. baronet under the gallery (sir C. Price), the representative of the Shipping Interest, preferred that to this system; which did what? Permit the American trade? No; but merely enable the privy council to prevent it, when it was necessary. The necessity had been shewn by the practice of 13 years, and the right hon. gent. over the way (Mr. Rose), with his great experience, his great knowledge, his great purity, and his great attachment to public principles, had permitted it to go on for 13 years. But now he began to find out that all this was very dangerous. But where had the danger been for 13 years? As to the ship owners they might have been heard by their counsel; and if they could, as they said, supply the colonies, why did they not do it? There was nothing iii this bill, to prevent them. (Hear! Hear!) 713 Was there any thing to prevent them? If there was, it was certainly more than he knew, for he had read the bill, and saw no such thing. Great Britain could not, in fact, at present, supply the colonies. He then went on to state that the navigation laws had been partially, and for a time suspended in several instances, such as in the trade with the Cape of Good Hope. He also contended, that there were many thing relative to the state of Europe and to the situation of this country which would bear on this question, and which could be known much better by the government here than by the governors of the West India islands. As to the advice which his learned friend had given to ministers, who knew so ill what they were to do, he left them to take the benefit of it. He left them also to profit by the instructions of another right hon. gent. of great experience (Mr. Roe), who always gave most salutary advice upon the purest public principles, without any personal considerations, and without any wish to oppose ministers farther than his notions of duty compelled him. It was certainly very good and condescending in him to give ministers the benefit of his great experience, and to desire to relieve them from the cares of government, for certainly, after having been in office 22 years, he had in some measure acquired a sort of right to retain it for 10 or l2 years more at least, and, to be sure, it was very great presumption in inexperienced people, who had been only 5 months in office, to take matters out of his hands. Under these circumstances, his advice ought, no doubt, to be listened to with all the attention which it deserved.
Mr. Cunning ,
rose, and spoke as follows: —The hon. and learned gent. who has just sat down, seems to think that every suggestion and advice from this side of the house is to be received with distrust by ministers, unless accompanied with a declaration of friendship for administration. I have always considered it a sufficient apology for every member of parliament who delivers his opinion in the fair execution of his duty, if he professes to have in view, not the pleasure of the administration of the day, but the interest of his country. Upon that principle I shall take the liberty of considering the subject now before us, than which I am confident there never was a matter brought into this house of greater importance, not so much for its immediate effect, as on account of the political principles connected with it. Many propositions have been sub- 714 mitted to parliament which have been liable to one or other of these objections, either that they were altogether unnecessary, or that being called for by a supposed necessity, they have been pressed to an extent which would produce a greater mischief than that which they were intended to remove; but I do not recollect any measure which comprehended so much of both these objections as the present; originating, as I think has been most clearly shewn, in no necessity whatever, and at the same time teeming with so much practical mischief.—The necessity in which it is contended that this measure originates, I take to be this, that under the circumstances of war it has been deemed impossible for Great Britain to supply the West India colonies with the articles which it is absolutely necessary they should have, and that America alone can supply them. If it had been contended on this side of the house that the latter mode should in no case be adopted, but that measures should he taken to preclude the furnishing of supplies from America, in cases where it was found impossible for the West India colonies to do without them, I should understand the eagerness with which this measure is supported. But in arguing this quest on, I think myself at liberty to put the West India supplies entirely out of my consideration, not because I think them of on importance, but because they are no-wise affected by this bill. Whether this bill passes or not, the West India interest may be equally well secured, as it has hither to been by the continuance of the discretionary power of the governors of the colonies. I desire to know in what instance the exercise of this discretionary power of the governors has been either rashly checked or severely enquired into; in what instance the responsibility attached to that exercise of power has prevented any governor from exercising it in case of necessity; what instance the exercise of that power, with that responsibility attached to it, has failed to receive the sanction of parliament, and an indemnity by law. So confidently is this indemnity anticipated by the present government, that there is now on the table of this house a letter of the secretary of state, on which I shall have occasion to remark bye and bye, promising on behalf of parliament what he calls the usual indemnity to all the governors who are called upon to act under it. If then there has been no disposition shewn to prevent the exercise of this discretionary power upon all occasions, which appear to require it; if there be no 715 intention in any quarter either to abridge that power, or to enforce more severely the responsibility attached to the exercise of it, there can be no necessity for the bill now before us. There can be nothing like a necessity for an act to provide for the doing of that which perpetually has been done, and as constantly sanctioned whenever the occasion for it has occurred.—My hon. and learned friend (Mr. Perceval), is stated by the hon. and learned gent. to have admitted (and as a general truth it undoubtedly must be admitted) that when a necessity is so constant, and so urgent that you cannot escape out of it, you should endeavour to provide some permanent remedy applicable to the continuance of such necessity; and the hon. and learned gent. triumphs in this admission. But where is the ground for that triumph? The admission concedes nothing. My hon. friend says, that where the necessity is constant, some permanent remedy should be applied; but that is so far from being an admission of the propriety of passing this bill, that it is a direct condemnation of it. For if the authors and supporters of this bill are to be credited, it is according to their own statement nothing more than a temporary remedy; they themselves say this bill is not an abrogation, but a suspension merely of the acts of parliament which regulate our navigation system, not a permanent but a temporary law. —My hon. friend contends, that for a permanent evil there ought to be provided a permanent remedy; and that to ascertain the extent of the evil, and to enable yourselves to judge of the fitness of the remedy, you ought in the first place to investigate the whole subject carefully and diligently, to get together and digest all the information that can be collected upon it. The authors of this bill refuse all enquiry, reject all means of information, and propose to pass a law, of which their best defence is that it is only temporary; and doing this, the hon. and learned gent. opposite yet fancies that lie obtains some advantage from what he calls the admission of my hon. friend. So far from wishing to retract or qualify my hon. and learned friend's admission, I admit, or rather I contend with him, that you ought to go thoroughly into the discussion of the whole subject, and endeavour to find out some effectual and lasting remedy to this perpetually recurring evil. But no man has admitted or contended that the undigested, crude, incompetent measure now before us, has either been founded on a sufficient investigation of the 716 whole subject (the very reverse is notorious) or that. it is to be considered as a permanent and adequate remedy for the necessity from which it is said to arise. The admission therefore of my hon. and learned friend is of itself an argument sufficiently conclusive against the passing of the present bill.—But, considering this as what it alone pretends to be, a temporary measure, let us examine what is the difference between it and the usual indemnity granted to the constant exercise of the discretion of the governors of the West India colonies? It is said that it is better that this power of a temporary suspension of the navigation laws should be lodged with his majesty's ministers, than with the governors of the West India islands; that ministers are more competent to the task of judging of the necessity of the case, as far as the West Indies are concerned; while on the other hand, they will have the opportunity, which the governors of the colonies cannot have, of hearing every thing that may be advanced on behalf of the ship-owners, before they consent to open the ports in the West Indies. This, they say, is so manifestly for the, interest of the ship-owners, that it is almost inconceivable that the ship-owners should oppose this measure. Now, sir, these are very fine words, but men of sense, and of business, are not likely to be deluded by them. How does the case of the ship-owners now stand? It has been proposed, that before you provide a measure which is to continue in operation during the whole, you should go into a committee to ascertain what are the claims, pretentious, and interests of the ship-owners? they tell you, that according to their belief, this law will operate to their incalculable prejudice; that it will absolutely annihilate their trade; and this they say they are ready to prove to you in a committee above stairs. Ministers answer, No! We will consent to no such committee. Why not? Is it for want of time? the time of bringing forward this measure is of the minister's own choosing. Nor do they now appear to feel themselves hurried in other matters. Much of their important military arrangements remain to he settled. There is therefore session enough remaining, and there can be no apprehension of danger even if this measure should go off until the next session; for whatever the necessities of the West India colonies may be, the governors there can act upon their responsibility, and will have their bill 4 indemnity as heretofore. But 717 for whatever reason, they are determined it seems to have no investigation now. They will have no previous enquiry into the nature of the case, for which they are now providing a law. They say, "leave the discretion in our hands," "let its be judges of the necessities of cases as they occur, and we will hear you, the ship-owners, hereafter, upon each particular case, but we will not hear you now." That is, you will not hear them now, when you might receive useful information from them, and profit by their advice; you will not hear them now, when you have the leisure for going into a full investigation of the case, without danger of mischief to the colonies from the delay of decision, as well as with the least injury to the interest of the shipowners. When this investigation might be pursued with the least possible inconvenience to any individuals, and with the least possible risque to the public interest, you refuse to enter upon it; you wait until an application shall come to you from the West Indies, accompanied perhaps with an assurance that the colonies are starving, that an insurrection is apprehended every hour, that immediate instantaneous relief can alone avert a public calamity; that is the opportunity which you will take for hearing the ship-owners expatiate on the nature of the trade, and on the possibility of going from hence with provisions to the West Indies; that, it seems, will be the time for going into the investigation of the whole matter, into a discussion of the best means for regulating the whole system of supplying the West India colonies, by means of British shipping; then it is that the season will arrive for hearing counsel, and collecting evidence, and balancing the advantages and disadvantages of adhering to, or relaxing the navigation laws. Ministers, undoubtedly, will enter into this cool deliberate discussion with great advantage, under the pressure of a sudden and immediate necessity, when the colonies are starving! Undoubtedly the ship-owners will then be entitled to a favourable hearing, when the question is not (as now) one of general prospective policy; but simply whether the governors of the West India islands; under the stimulus of immediate want, shall be permitted to let in supplies from America! Why, sir, to say to gentleman who use this argument, that there is nothing in it, to expose to them the fallacy of it, I am sure is needless; thy know it is fallacious, they know it full well; but they want to evade 718 the present proposed enquiry; and they hold out to the ship-owners and merchants, whose interests are to be sacrificed by this bill, a prospect of indulgence, to be granted to them hereafter, at a moment when they know that the necessity will be so urgent as to preclude the possibility of deliberate investigation. One main proposition upon which this bill is to be supported is, though not in terms, in substance, this; that an urgent, local necessity can be judged of by those who are at a distance, better than by those who are on the spot. I ask, whether it can be necessary to do more, than state this proposition, in order to shew its absurdity? But even this absurdity is only subsidiary to that other of which we have been speaking, the notion that the ship-owners will be heard to most advantage when the necessities of the West Indies are immediately under discussion before the privy council. It is plain, that if you hear the ship-owners now, your whole policy may be governed by their statements; you will learn from them what they can do upon proper encouragement, what means they possess if it should be thought fit to bring them into activity, for meeting the necessities of the plantations. If they can shew that their means are equal to those necessities, or can be made so, then this bill is wholly unnecessary; if they can do so only to a partial extent, then the bill would require modifications conformable and commensurate to that extent. It may be said, no doubt, that the prospect of commercial gain may lead men to promise more than they can perform; but it is true, on the other hand, that it must operate as an encouragement to them to do all they can: whereas the passing this bill, which will put an end at once to all hope of employment, will slacken their exertions, and diminish their enterprize to such a degree, that if they should be called hereafter before the privy council to make their offer to carry on this trade, they must come there not only with abated ardour, but with their general capacity for the purpose considerably impaired; so that by this bill we shall then have lost what can never be recovered, But neither is this the extent of the absurdity: ministers will not hear now what the ship-owners have to say upon the general state of the British shipping, by the comparison of which, with the general amount of the demands of the West India colonies, they might be enabled to draw their own conclusions as to the general policy which they 719 ought to adopt. They will examine the ship-owners from time to time, on the spur of each particular necessity. In the name of God, what can the ship-owners know more than I, or any other member of this house may know of the state of things in the West India colonies, at any particular moment, when application is made for relief from a sudden pressure? Or what probability is there, that called upon, on a sudden, after years of neglect and depression, they will be prepared to come forward to meet the necessity of the moment? So that now, when you might avail yourselves of the unbiassed intelligence of these gentlemen, when their patriotism and adventurous spirit might be called into action for the service of the state, you will have nothing to do with them; and when that spirit is enfeebled by disuse, or soured by discouragement, and when the points under your enquiry will be confined simply to the existence or degree of a particular necessity in the West Indies, upon which their testimony can be good for nothing, then you propose to call them before you for examination, and to require from them exertions which you will previously have disabled them from making. But we are told there is a more simple, as well as a more constitutional view in which this matter is to be looked at, and this proceeding recommended. It is said—"that we have been under the necessity of subscribing to the repeated violations of a law, and that it is more prudent, as well as more constitutional, to provide by legal means for a necessity which we cannot obviate." The objection to this proposition is that it assumes too much—for it assumes that you cannot at any time supply your colonies: it is indeed stated to have been proved by the practice of thirteen years, that we cannot supply our colonies; it is stated as a cheering piece of intelligence to the people of England, that they cannot supply their colonies; it is stated to the ship-owners, that they cannot, and shall not, even be permitted to try what they can do towards effecting that object. The hon. and learned gent. the attorney general, exults anti triumphs in the supposed truth, that we cannot supply our colonies. I presume the honourable and learned gentleman cannot mean to say that we ought not to be desirous of doing so if we had the power. He cannot mean to deny, in one instance, that winch is the fundamental law of every country, admitted to be so in all books, and in all writings of all authors on the law of 720 nations; never known to be contradicted by any rule adopted by any nation in the whole history of the world; namely, that a nation possessing colonies has a right to reserve to itself the exclusive trade with such colonies. This is a principle which it would be at least desirable to have observed between this country and the West Indies: whether it can be so or not in every instance, is the question which is now in agitation, but I own it was to me matter of some surprize, that the attorney general of Gr. Brit. should appear to think it matter of triumph and exultation, that the united efforts of G. Britain and the British American colonies should not be equal to the constant necessary supply of the West India islands. The learned gentleman, however, seems to imagine that all mankind have uniformly acquiesced in his doctrine, for that no endeavour has ever been made to practice of supplying the wants of the colonies from America, instead of supplying them from G. Britain, and he particularly points this observation at the conduct of my rt. hon. friend (Mr. Rose) who who says was in office 22 years without making any attempt to alter the practice of suspending the navigation laws, and he especially blames my rt. hon. friend for not having made such an attempt towards the conclusion of the late war. First, as to the fact. It is well known, though the hon. and learned gent. chooses to appear to forget it, that my rt. hon. friend (Mr. Rose) was out of office a considerable time before the end of the last war, and before the experiment which he now recommends to this house, of trying what we may do by British shipping alone, could have been tried. It is worthy of remark, also, that my rt. hon. friend, while in office during the late war, was in a situation which gave him no power over measures of this nature, and it is fit that the hon. and learned gent. should be informed, that no sooner did my rt. hon. friend return to office, and become vice-president of the board of trade (in which situation he has rendered his country so much service) than he did take up the consideration of this subject, and before he had been many days in office, did make an effort to discontinue the practice which both he and myself are now opposing. But whatever he did for this purpose, the present bill unquestionably is intended to destroy. The hon. and learned gent. is, therefore, incorrect in his apprehension of the fact, when he supposes my rt. hon. friend to have made no effort, while in power, to 721 discontinue the practice of thus suspending the navigation laws, for the enforcing of which he is now an advocate, and therefore I may without offence infer, that all the observations which the hon. and learned gent has made, and all the sarcasms which he has attempted on that part of the subject, are wholly unfounded. Something of the same kind the hon. and learned gent. insinuated against the hon. baronet, (sir C Price)one of the members for the city of London: he has asked where that hon member was when all these suspensions of the navigation laws took place, and when bills of indemnity were passed for those who advised such suspensions. This question can be answered, I believe, on behalf of the worthy baronet, as satisfactorily as it has been on that of my rt. hon. friend. Surely it is in the recollection of those who are, or who ought to be, on the bench opposite to me, that that worthy baronet did call the attention of the house to the very subject which the learned gent. has accused him of neglecting, and did more than once complain of the suspension of the navigation laws, and if I am not misinformed, he was prevented only by the promise of the government itself, to look seriously into the question, from making it the subject of a regular motion in this house. All that the learned gent. has said, therefore, of the supposed acquiescence of those who oppose the present bill, and who support the interests of the ship-owners, all that part of the reasoning of the learned gent. falls to the ground, because all the facts upon which his reasoning is founded are removed from under him. —So much for the learned gent's facts. Now for the general policy which the learned gent. recommends to us. He says that rather than violate a law frequently, you should enact another to make that violation legal. When you cannot enforce an act of parliament in its strictness, you should do what? pass another to amend and modify it? No, pass another that is a direct repeal and contradiction of it: when a law becomes difficult to be enforced to its full extent, when it becomes inconvenient, or troublesome, or distastetful to ministers, what is the natural course of a government, at least of an omnipotent government, such as this country is at present blessed with, a government which abhors detail, which scorns to descend into the little affairs and petty interests of any class of men; what but to abrogate it at once, and for that purpose to bring before parliament one grand sweeping clause to do the whole 722 away, without the difficulty of descending into particulars? this they are pleased to call revising the system of our laws; but one way of revising a system is to examine it, and one way of understanding a thing is to examine it with deliberation, and after having so done the result is what we call, decision: in this case act with as much decision as you please; but what I ask of you is, that your decision should not precede enquiry, but what you do should be the result not of arbitrary will, but of well-considered information—But the hon. and learned gent. thinks that the navigation laws will be found inconvenient in some particular instances, or incompatible with the extent of empire which we may enjoy; but must these laws be altogether repealed because they may be found inconvenient in some particulars? I trust not. Do I mean to say, therefore, that it is better that our colonies in the West Indies should starve than our navigation laws should be made to give way? Nothing of the kind. I do mean to say, that there are means of moderating the rigour of these laws, and that like any other laws they may even be suspended in cases of absolute necessity; and I say too, that notwithstanding this same experience of 13 years, I am persuaded there are, or may be, means of supplying the colonies from this country in a manner nearly, if not entirely, adequate to their necessities; and I contend, that it would be extremely rash to suspend an entire system, because in some few instances you find that it cannot be enforced to its utmost rigour: revise the system, if you will; but in that case what I contend is, that you ought to receive information upon the subject before you proceed upon your legislative enactments.—But it seems the responsibility of these suspensions of the law of navigation is not to be abandoned any longer to the governors of the islands, but is to be transferred to the great and wise men at home who constitute his majesty's present ministry. Now I beg the house to consider of this responsibility. At present the governors of the colonies are left to act according to their discretion upon a view of local circumstances, of which they have perfect knowledge. They are bound to prove that they have acted under such circumstances with a sound discretion; and, upon this proof they are indemnified: a rational responsibility, inasmuch as it attaches to those who have the means of knowing precisely what they do. The alteration proposed upon this system is, to take the 723 whole power and discretion out of the hand of those who alone can have any knowledge how it ought to be exercised, and whose conduct parliament is necessarily to review (for their conduct is of course brought under the view of parliament the very next session) and to put it into the hands of those who can have no knowledge whatever of any of the local circumstances by which discretion may be guided; who are subject indeed to a responsibility, but a responsibility of a very different nature, one which never can be enforced except in such momentous cases as may compel parliament to call great ministers of state to an account for high misconduct, a very cumbrous process, and one which is never resorted to except in extreme cases. I would ask, therefore, is it advisable to take away the responsibility of those whose conduct must come under the revision of parliament every session, and to fix it upon those whose conduct you can never examine without grave suspicion of criminality? In fact, upon a subject like this it would never be examined at all.—But as we are speaking of the discretion to be intrusted to ministers, let us see how that discretion has been already used on this very subject. We find on the 2nd of April, while this bill was only in contemplation, but before it had been mentioned to parliament, his majesty's secretary of state for the colonies thinks fit to write to the governors of the West India islands, not to exhort them to take care how they exercise their power, not to say that they will be held to their responsibility if they should in any instance relax the navigation laws unnecessarily; but he sends out to the governors of the West Indies one general sweeping direction to suspend the navigation laws during the present war, during the whole war, without any qualification whatever! a most unusual, and, I will say, a most unjustifiable exercise of authority; and with a confident anticipation of the decisions of this house, he adds, that the ministers will take care that the usual indemnity shall be provided! (hear, hear.) This is before the act of parliament has passed. The ministers assure the governors of the West Indies they will take care that parliament shall pass an act according to what they consider "the usage of parliament." Now I do say, that no person whatever is entitled to write in this manner prospectively of what parliament will do: "an act of parliament shall pass according to the usage of parliament." I should be glad to know by 724 what usage of parliament any one of the king's servants at home can tell the king's servants abroad that parliament shall pass an indemnity for an act which when ordered to be done was against law. I must say, that it is a most extraordinary and indecent exercise of ministerial power. But have we any better security for the safety of our colonies by shifting the responsibility from the governors of the islands to the ministers at home? Is it not obvious that the evil of the discretionary power must be increased? I will suppose the case of a representation coming over from the West Indies, in which it should be stated that there was an absolute necessity for a certain immediate supply; suppose the ship-owners, on being heard, were to persuade government that they would supply the wants of the islands, and that government, yielding to their suggestions, send out an order to the West Indies against opening the ports; suppose that before the supplies could arrive from hence the inhabitants of the colonies were starving; I trust that the rigour of that order would not be obeyed by the governor of any one of the islands in such a case; but that every one of them would consider it as his duty to his sovereign and to his country, to disobey it; but if he adhered to that order he could not be called to an account, for under the authority of this bill there is no discretion left to him. Surely this is putting the governors in the most painful situation, a situation unjust in the extreme, at the same time that it exposes the colonies to unnecessary hazard. So much for future discretion and responsibility: at present, I defy you to call any governor whatever to account for any the most wanton suspension of the navigation laws. The sweeping authority winch the rt. hon. secretary of state, (Mr. Windham) has sent to the colonies, provides for the suspension of the whole of the navigation laws during the whole continuance of the war. Such is the foretaste which ministers have given us of the use which they will make of the discretionary power which they require at our hands. We are now called upon to sanction the rt. hon. gent's. letter, by enacting the substance of it into a law. For one, I cannot consent to do so; nor can I hesitate in saying that ministers ought to take more care than they have done in this instance that their own acts are right, before they make them the foundation of any legislative measure.—At all times, and under all circumstances, the multiplying laws unneces- 725 sarily is a great evil. I think it is not contended on the other side of the house that there is that urgent practical necessity for the passing of this bill, which would make you overlook all other political considerations; what you now propose to have an art of parliament for doing may be done at any time without an act of parliament; if necessary to be done at all. If there be no instant and urgent call upon you, it is clear that you ought not to adopt such a measure without inquiry; go into that inquiry you will find the measure unnecessary altogether: we are not now providing for the urgent and immediate supply of the islands, that is secure. The principle on which any permanent provision on so important a subject should be founded is surely matter fit for the gravest deliberation of parliament; and I would venture to ask whether, before coming to a decision on such a subject, it does not become parliament to consider the political state of the world, to consider in what way the adoption of a permanent measure of this kind may bear upon any points which are or may be in discussion between us and America; and how far the government of America, or at least considerable parties and leading individuals there, whose sentiments towards this country are avowedly of the most hostile nature, may be likely to consider the passing of this bill as a concession on the part of this country.—The hon. and learned gent. who spoke last, professes to be acquainted in a peculiar degree with the manner in which the trade is carried on between America and our West India colonies. He has stated that no articles of any kind but lumber and provisions are imported from America to those colonies; but I understand that, in point of fact, other articles, such as soap, candles, leather, and other manufactured articles, do find their way from America into the West Indies; and if so, if they do now find their way before the passing of this bill, they will afterwards find their way still more, for this bill, whatever prohibitions you may insert in it, will obviously facilitate the intercourse; the trading, in the first instance, will be general, and you will be left to take care of your exceptions in each particular instance. Thus you will be giving to America a very great boon, not only to the extent which you admit, but much beyond it; it will be impossible to prevent many things front being done under colour of this act which cannot be done at present: and if you do in fact give such a boon, it is idle 726 to pretend ignorance or indifference about it: either you mean it, or you do not; if not, why pass the bill at all? our colonies can get what they watt without it. If you intend to gratify America, how does she receive it? as a favour for which she is thankful or as a concession which she claims?—It is notorious that there are points of great delicacy in discussion with America. I do not wish to give or to ask ally opinion upon them; but I must ask the rt. hon. secretary (Mr. Fox) whether he is already so weary of the approbation and applause which he received for his conduct in the dispute with Prussia, that he cannot persuade himself to act in the same spirit towards America? I know he will tell me that this act has no direct reference to America, that America is no party to it. But however that may be, it is no less true, that considerable advantages are afforded by it to America, and that by this measure you may embarrass yourselves in the consideration of any treaty you may have to enter into with that country. Suppose you should hereafter wish to repeal this bill at a time when America might be again, as she is now, in a state of ferment with regard to this country, would not they think the repeal of a law so beneficial to their commerce a measure so injurious, that the continuance of it may perhaps be made the price at which the friendship of America is to be purchased? and they will not be without arguments to sustain their claim: "Was not the law necessary to your own convenience, they may say, and founded on the experience of 13 or 14 years before it was adopted? Did you not upon deliberation adopt it as a measure of state policy? Did not we receive it as a measure of conciliation? Why, when the same reasons are still in force, should it be discontinued, unless as an indication of hostility to us?" Such may be at some future and perhaps no distant time the language of America. Do I therefore say that all concession is in its nature necessarily bad? No, I do not; but I do say, that concession may be good or bad according to the circumstances of the time in which it is made; and I do further say, that a worse moment for this country to make any concession to America could not be chosen. What greater sacrifices could any country, friend or foe, expect from you than this which you are now about to make to America? Has France, has even France with all the extravagance of her pretensions, ever been bold enough to ask you to suspend your navigation laws? I do 727 not say that America asks you to do so; but I. do say, that in the situation in which you stand you ought to take care to be above even the suspicion of an undue compliance. This measure, on the face of it, carries the appearance of a concession at a moment wherein it is your duty to stand upon you rights; it is at least liable to this construction, and if you pass it at the present moment it will be so thought of in America. Once again, where is the necessity for this measure? Cannot our West India plantations be supplied with every thing they want without it? Will they not be supplied exactly in the same manner whether this bill passes or not? If there is no necessity for it, think of the danger there is in passing this bill into a law, not only on account of the injury you sustain by the suspension of your navigation laws, while that suspension continues, but also because you will by such a suspension as this bill provides, make it difficult, if not impossible, to revert to your former system. It is not denied that it is an evil to suspend the navigation laws; but the evil is in some degree unavoidable. Be it so; but why aggravate what you cannot altogether avoid? Why make that suspension permanent which when temporary and occasional has fully answered every purpose? You say, you are only doing what has been already done for many years, that you only mean to do the same in a different manner. You may mean what you will; but certainly the effect of your bill will be to suspend permanently laws which have hitherto only been suspended temporarily, to take responsibility from those who acted from knowledge of the necessity of each particular ease, and rendered an annual account of each act of discretion, and to place it in the hands of others who already have shewn us what an extravagant use they mean to make, and how little account they propose to render of it, who have already anticipated for the whole of the war the existence of a necessity, which has hitherto been ascertained annually, and never acted upon until ascertained.—And you do this at a time and under circumstances which induce inevitably the suspicion that while you are thus sacrificing the leading principles of your navigation system, as well as the interests of that class of men, by encouraging whom you would encourage the maritime power of the country, you are making this sacrifice to a foreign power at present no way favourably disposed to you, and in whom the appearance of concession is likely to beget 728 an encreased spirit of encroachment: and all this you are doing rashly and precipitately, shutting your eyes against the facts which are offered to be proved to you, and relegating the evidence of those best capable, of giving you information, to a period when it can neither be received with the same confidence, not listened to with the effect, when the mischief will have been incurred, and when the means of remedying it will be incalculably diminished —This is the way in which you are passing this most unnecessary and mischievous bill; these are the pretexts on which you endeavour to recommend it to this house; these are the dangers to which it will expose you; these are the evils which it will produce. I think it. likely to be fatal to the best interests of the country, and therefore I shall give it my decided opposition.
§ Dr. Laurence
observed that the gentlemen who said any thing against this bill, seemed to found their opinions entirely on a fallacy; they spoke as if they considered that a system, which in fact was nothing more than a provisional regulation for the benefit of our shipping, and for the occasional supply of our colonies. These gentlemen, however, who were so extremely tender about the navigation laws, and who were so constantly in the habit of extolling the great virtues of the rt. hon. gent. now no more, (Mr. Pitt) did not seem to recollect any thing about the Dutch property act that was passed during the administration of that gentleman. When it was apprehended that Holland was about to be annexed to France, at first an order in council was passed, permitting the landing of Dutch property in this country from neutral vessels. This practice was afterwards by a positive law extended, and was in that extended state continued for upwards of 4 years, to the total ruin of our navigation laws. Let those gentlemen then triumph in their long experience in that administration; but let them not at the same time affect a tenderness about our navigation laws.
§ Sir John Newport
rose, merely to state the effect that the proposed regulation had produced in Ireland. The persons concerned in the provision trade, instead of supposing themselves at all injured by this bill, considered that it would promote the export of provisions from that country. They considered that it would be much safer to embark in the trade of supplying the West Indies with provisions, when the discretion was in the privy-council, than formerly when it was vested in the govern- 729 ors of the islands. At the same time they had now sufficient notice, that if they were not able to supply the markets, the port would be open to the American vessels He felt a considerable degree of surprise a finding that this bill was opposed by the ship-owners, as it appeared to him that it was much more to their advantage, that the discretion which must rest somewhere, should remain with the privy council, than that it should be given to the governors of the islands, who sometimes might be supposed to act capriciously, and from the influence of the planters. In letting this discretion remain with the privy council, the decisions was brought to their own door. As to the provision trade, when the latter had been so much dwelt upon, the gentlemen on the other side should also have considered the bounties that were given on exportation from our colonies, and the pains that were taken to give this country and its colonies every advantage in supplying the West India market. He could declare most positively, and he could bring documents to prove it, that when the persons concerned in the provision trade in Ireland had been applied to upon this subject, their answer was, that they would embark in the trade with much greater confidence and spirit, when they knew that it would be governed by a fixed rule, laid down by the privy-council, than they would have done when the discretion remained entirely with the governors of the islands, and when they were not sure but that on the arrival of their provisions some arbitrary and capricious order might, by giving an advantage to the Americans, prevent the sale of them. He concluded by declaring, that this measure had given more satisfaction to the Irish merchants concerned in the provision trade, than all the measures which the boasted experience of the gentlemen on the other side of the house could in twenty years enable them to suggest.—The house then divided, when there appeared, For the second reading 112: For the amendment 54 Majority 58—file bill was afterwards read a second time, and ordered to be committed on Friday.
List of the Minority. Ashley, C. Castlereagh, Lord Buxton, Sir R. Canning, G. Bagwell, J. Chute, W. Bagwell, W. Curtis, Sir W. Baker, W. Dent, J. Barne, S. Fellowes, W. H. Boo[...]e, W. Foster, J. Brodrick, W. Fitzhugh, W. Blaqu[...]ere, Lord De Gibbs, Sir V.
Bourne, S. Garbes, Lord Huskisson, W. Rutherford, J. Hammond, Sir A. S. Rendlesham, Lord Holford, G. P. Rose, G. King, Sir J. D. Rose, G. H. Long, C. Ryder, R. Lovaine, Lord Sibthorpe. H. W. Leycester, H. Smith, S. Lascelies, H. Smith, G. M'Nagh[...]en, E. A. Scott, Sir W. Manners, Lord C. Steele, T. Manners, Lord R. Scott, C. Mildmay, Sir H. Scott, S. Mainwaring, G. B. Staniforth, J. Price Sir C. Stanhope, S. Phipps, E. Somerset, Lord L. Preston, Sir R. Thornton, S. Perceval, S. Wallace, T.