§ Mr. Horner
rose to move, "That such part of the Papers presented to the house on the 10th and 11th Feb. as related to the Fees and Gratuities paid on Licences for Navigation and Trade, he referred to the Committee on Public Offices." The subject of these Licences resolved itself into two parts. The first, and by far the most important, was the acknowledged anomaly in our commercial system which they had occasioned, and the encroachment which they had made upon the constitution, by placing the whole of the foreign trade of the country under the controul of the executive government, than any interference by whom in commercial affairs all authorities concurred in declaring that nothing could be more prejudicial. But it was not to this great branch of the subject he at present wished to draw the attention of the house: should his majesty's ministers, who, from so many Circumstances, must be infinitely better qualified to bring it under the consideration of parliament, neglect to do so, 924 he pledged himself, at some future period of the session, to undertake the task. At present, all he desired was, to investigate the minor branch of it, namely, the amount of the Fees obtained through the medium of the Licences, and the nature of the authority by which those fees were claimed. It appeared to him, that if these licences were considered as generally necessary, it would be much better to come to the legislature, and render the trade, to the carrying on of which they were the sanction, legal for a time to be limited; in imitation of Mr. Pitt in 1798, at whose instigation the importation of Spanish goods was permitted by act of parliament. Adverting to the returns of the fees, gratuities, &c. he observed that they were not quite satisfactory. It was stated in those returns, that the fee for a licence amounted only to 12l. 9s. 6d.; now, he knew that on every licence that had been granted, the fees had exceeded 15l. and sometimes 20l.; and that where one merchant had obtained licences for several ships, instead of an additional guinea only having been charged for each vessel, as stated in the returns, not less than 65l. or 66l. had been charged for a licence for six ships.
observed, that so long since as Aug. last, his majesty's ministers had instituted an inquiry into this subject, and that some weeks ago the privy council Ending the amount of the fees to be so considerable, had taken the matter into serious consideration, and had entered into a strict investigation of it. Before the reference of the subject to the Committee of Finance, he thought it would be most desirable to have before the house proceedings of the privy council, and he therefore recommended to the hon. gent. to postpone his motion for a short time, in order to give an opportunity in a few days of moving an address to his majesty for the production of the proceedings of the privy council. Nothing could be further from his wish, than to suppress enquiry on this subject, which, on the contrary, he was desirous should be thoroughly sifted.
The Advocate General
remarked, that the ground on which these licenses had been granted, was, not for the purpose, of placing foreign trade under the controul of the executive, but to permit British subjects to trade with the enemy. In 1805, a General Order in Council had been issued, to enable British merchants to trade with the enemy, in certain articles of great importance to agriculture and to manufac- 925 tures. In Feb. 1807, an extension of that Order had been made; but the merchants had nevertheless continued voluntarily to take out licenses, although they had been repeatedly told that they were unnecessary.—After some further conversation, Mr. Horner agreed to postpone his motion.