HC Deb 03 March 1808 vol 10 cc889-95
General Gascoyne

presented a Petition from the Merchants of Liverpool against the Orders in Council bill. He said he was sensible of the readiness with which parliament and ministers attended to the petitions of the people, and the high respectability of the Liverpool merchants would, he was persuaded, obtain for them all due attention. He was aware that the forms of parliament might operate against his motion for receiving the present petition, and he was far, from wishing for any departure from its rules. The petition, however, did not go to oppose the duties, but the spirit of the bill, while it expressed apprehensions that from the nature of the warfare, we might lose much, and the enemy gain. Liverpool at present possessed three-fourths of the trade with America; and the disbursements amounted to 150,000l. annually for the last three years. Front bearing so great a portion, Liverpool would be most particularly affected; and he therefore hoped there would be no objection to receiving the petition against the present bill.

The Speaker

asked if the Petition was against the bill which provided certain duties under the Orders in Council?

General Gascoyne

answered, that it only went to oppose certain chases, but not the bill in the general view.

The Speaker

stated the usage of the house to be, not to receive any petition against a duty bill. If the hon. general could satisfy the house that his petition did not come under this description, it might be received; not otherwise.

Mr. Tierney

observed, that the house was obliged to the speaker for the distinct manner in which he had stated the usage of the house. This was most important petition. Interests of the greatest magnitude were concerned in it; yet these petitioners were now to be told, that they could not be heard. Where then could they be heard? Was there any course for them to pursue to obtain a hearing? Or did the house stand in this unfortunate predicament, that though well disposed to listen to the petitioners, they could not, in point of form, attend to them? If so, it was the only instance that ever had occurred in the history of parliament where petitioners were rejected, without some other mode being pointed out by which they might state their complaints. He professed his respect for the usage of admitting no petitions against tax because, if petitions should be received against them in the session in which they passed, every one would be so anxious to shift the burthen from himself that the public business could not be carried on. But this petition was not against the duties, but against the regulations; and though it was contrary to the letter, it was perfectly consistent with the spirit of the usage. This tax was besides, not within the principle of duties, for it was merely a tax on foreigners, laid with a view not to revenue, but to the carrying into effect certain commercial regulations. Against these this petition was presented, and the petitioners would have the strongest ground of complaint if they were shut out from bringing evidence to prove their allegations. The house too had much reason to complain. Hitherto the responsibility of these Orders rested with those who advised them; but when the bill passed it would rest with the house. Could the members say that they had sufficient evidence from commercial men, that they were just and proper? Had the ministers satisfied them with their speeches? There were grounds to suppose from what had passed that some of the provisions would be changed, so little had ministers themselves matured their measure. But all that the petitioners had in the world was at stake. The ministers said, that this was a bill 'for the protection of trade;' the petitioners said, that they would shew that it was a bill not for the protection, but for the destruction of trade. Would the house take upon itself the intolerable responsibility of this measure, without listening to such a heavy complaint preferred from such a quarter? It was an intolerable hardship on the petitioners, to be sent back unheard, merely through the negligence and blunders of the ministers. They might, upon a pretence of this sort, deprive a man of his estate, without allowing him to be heard, by inserting in the bill a duty upon the stamp for the conveyance. Our ancestors had prevented such things, by confining the duties to the committee of ways and means, and originating other things in such a way as to allow petitioners to be heard. Mr. Pitt had been scrupulous in avoiding the committee of ways and means where he could; and of this the cases of the consolidation of the duties, and the two-penny post duty, were instances. Oh, that the gentlemen on the other side would imitate Mr. Pitt in what was just and proper, as well as in his mistakes! All that the petitioners desired, was to be heard some way. He had given the right hon. gent. some credit for his mistake in this business; but he could not even give him that now, since he found that he persevered in his plan, and so shut out petitioners. Was this to be endured, especially with such petitions on the table, where it was stated, that thirty or forty thousand people were deprived of bread? The present petition was not a party one, nor could such a thing be even alleged, for it was known, that many who signed it were friendly to administration; Would ministers thus aggravate the distress of the people? He had given them credit for pitying them; but if they rejected this petition, he would give them no such credit. Here we were told, not of forty thousand people, as in the other petitions, but of four hundred thousand, who would be deprived of bread by the destruction of the Liverpool trade; a circumstance that would spread devastation over all the surrounding country. Usage in such a case as this ought to stand by, as the petitioners had been shut out by the neglect of the house. He said, that the same course ought to have been taken here as in the case of the convoy tax, where a committee of trade and navigation had been appointed. He had thought this from the beginning a most important point, and now the difficulty began to be felt. The forms of the house were the perfection of wisdom for the convenience of business, as the common law had been called the perfection of reason. The departure from these had placed the house in this unpleasant predicament. But it was impossible that the house could, with any shadow of justice or prudence, refuse to hear the petitioners in some way orother

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

observed that the bill before the house went to levy certain duties to carry on the war, aid she petition, in opposing the bill, obviously went against levying those du- ties, and could not, therefore, consistently with regard to the usages of parliament, be received. The precedent would prove injurous, by establishing a deviation from so wise and necessary a principle of not admitting petitions against supplies immediately necessary for the service of the state. He lamented as much as any man the pressure attendant upon the war; but there could be no general good in such cases, without some partial evils; and the interests and safety of the state would be sacrificed, if we permitted ourselves to be diverted from general purposes, by yielding to complaints of a local nature. Under these considerations he was sorry to be under the necessity of opposing the motion for receiving the petition.

Mr. Ponsonby

considered that the petition, both in form and substance, was admissible, and contended that from the great interest the petitioners had in the bill, they had a right to be heard upon the subject.

Lord Castlereagh

insisted that the usages of parliament, which it was so necessary to hold sacred in respect to the necessary supplies for the public service, would not admit of the petition being received, and enforced the other arguments adduced by the chancellor of the exchequer.

Mr. Sheridan

could see no good reason for refusing to receive the petition; and entered into some general arguments against the tendency of the measure of which the petitioners complained.

General Tarleton

wished the petition to be received, although it was not signed by any one of the 1461 voters who supported him at the last election; nor was he requested by any one of those voters to interfere in its behalf. The hon. officer took occasion to inveigh against the want of national spirit on the part of opposition; and on their disposition to panegyrize the talents of foreign generals, while they overlooked the merit of their own countrymen. These gentlemen were, in his apprehension, pursuing a dreadful course; which, although perhaps their only object was to turn out ministers, would tend to turn out the country [a laugh.] The hon. officer bore testimony to the respectability of Mr. Rathbone, the delegate from Liverpool, but-he did not like his sectarian principles.

Mr. Whitbread

observed, that his gallant friend seemed to allude to some remarks of his on a former evening, relative to the talents of foreign officer; but however transcendant those talents were, or however much was to be apprehended from them to any part of the empire, he had the consolation to think, there was one place which defied their attack; that at least Berwick was safe. [A laugh, general Tarleton being now governor of Berwick.] The hon. member argued forcibly in favour of the motion.

Mr. Huskisson

observed, that every proviso of the bill against which the petition was levelled containing the imposition of a duty, it was completely a money bill, and therefore the motion could not at all be acceded to, consistently with the usage of the house.

Lord H Petty

said, that his object was to rescue the petition from the representation made of it by the hon. member who had just sat down, and to shew it was a petition against the bill by its title, and therefore not within the meaning of the established usage of the house. The title of the bill was, 'a Bill more effectually to carry into execution certain Orders in Council.' He contended, therefore, that there was no ground of usage that could preclude the merchants of Liverpool from being heard upon so important a question. The Hawkers and Pedlars bill had not been divided, but referred to a committee of the whole house, in which the petitioners were heard by their counsel against the bill, the counsel having been warned to confine themselves to the matter of the regulations, and not to meddle with the part of the bill granting duties. Were the merchants of Liverpool not to be allowed that privilege which had been granted to chapmen, hawkers, and pedlars? Was the house to have its doors hermetically sealed against the petitions of the people? He trusted, however, that they would not suffer themselves to be led away from their duty by his majesty's ministers, but decide that they would hear the petitioners then at the bar, on a question of such vital importance to the trade and prosperity of the empire.

Mr. Rose

contended, that the usage which precluded the reception of the petition, had never been departed from. The Hawkers and Pedlars bill, had been rather of regulation and police than of duties, and therefore was not analogous to the present case. If the house were to throw open its doors in the present instance, they would never be able to close them; for whatever might be the nature of a tax hereafter to be proposed, their table would be covered with petitions against it, on the authority of this precedent.

Mr. Sheridan rose

to a point of order. He said that it had been declared from the other side of the house in the course of the debate, that the authority of the Chair had decided against the claims of the petitioners to be heard in this instance, and that authority had been quoted, and made the ground of arguments in the discussion. Now, the point of order to which he rose was, that as he had not heard any such opinion stated from the Chair, he wished to know whether the question had been so decided upon from the Chair?

The Speaker

then rose and said, that the house must perceive he was called upon in no usual way; however, he should not shrink from the performance of his duty, whenever he should be called upon to perform it. He apprehended that any member of that house, who might have had the honour of being appointed to the chair, had two duties to perform. The first was, when a member thought proper to consult him upon any question touching the forms of that house, or the nature of its proceedings, he was always ready, as, indeed, it was his duty, to state to him his personal opinion, upon the point submitted to his consideration. It was also his duty, whenever a question arose in the course of their proceeding, respecting the orders, forms, or usages of that house, to explain the rules of its conduct, and the nature of the particular order or usage that might bear upon the question, always leaving it to the house to make the application. It was not for him by an avowal of his opinion to attempt to sway the debates of that house. If, however, it should be the pleasure of the house, to call upon him for his opinion, he should be ready to declare it; for he did not fear to state his opinion. But the matter was still a question in the house, and upon it the house alone could, by a vote, decide. He had stated what the usage was, and that, if the bill under consideration was a Money bill, pursuant to such usage no petition could be received against it. But he had understood the house to have been debating the question, whether the bill was a Money bill or not. Upon that point, a vote of the house alone could be decisive; and if, in the only case in which he could be called on for an opinion upon it, in the case of a balanced opinion in the house, it should be his duty to pronounce that opinion, he would know how to do his duty; but, until then, it was not for him to express any official opinion.

Mr. Sheridan,

in justice to himself, to the house, and to the chair, was bound to explain the motive which induced him to put the question to the chair. He had not the most distant idea of putting his question from any feeling of disrespect to the chair. He had heard the hon. gentlemen opposite assert, that the opinion had been decisively given by the chair, which statement he very much questioned, and he was happy to find that his opinion was confirmed by what had fallen from the chair.—A division then took place,

For receiving the Petition 80
Against it 128
Majority against it —48

List of the Minority,
Abercromby, J. M'Kenzie, general
Adam, W. Maddocks, W. A.
Anstruther, Sir J. Mahon, viscount
Aubrey, sir J. Martin, H.
Baring, A. Miller, sir T.
Bring, Thos. Mosley, sir O.
Bernard, S. Newport, sir J.
Blackburne, John North, Dudley
Blackburne, John J. Ord, W.
Bouverie, E. Ossulston, lord
Bradshaw, A.C. Parnell, H.
Browne, Anthony Pelham, hon. C. A.
Byng, G. Petty, lord H.
Calcraft, J. Piggott, sir A.
Calcraft, sir G. Ponsonby, G.
Cavendish, lord G. Porchester, lord
Colborne, N. W. R. Prittie, F.
Craig, J. Quin, W. H.
Dundas, hon. C. L. Russel, lord W.
Dundas, hon. R. J. Sharp, R.
Ebrington, viscount Sheridan, R. B.
Eden, W. F. E. Shipley, W.
Elliott, W. Smith, W.
Fergusson, S. C. Stanley, lord
Fitzpatrick, R. Stanley, Thomas
Greenhill, R. Tarleton, B.
Griffenhoff, J. Taylor, M. A
Herbert, H. A. Temple, earl
Hibbert, G. Tierney, G.
Horner, Francis Tracey, H.
Howard, W. Walpole, hon. G.
Hume, W. H. Ward, hon. J.
Jekyll, Joseph Wardel, G. F.
Knox, T. Warrender, sir G.
Lamb, W. Western, C. C.
Latouche, R. Whitbread, S.
Lawrence F. Windham, W.
Leach, John Wynne, sir W. W.
Leman, Charles
Lloyd, J. M. Tellers.
Lushington, S. Gascoyne, Isaac
Macdonald, James Creevey, Thomas