HC Deb 10 March 1808 vol 10 cc1056-68
Mr. Alderman Combe

presented a Petition from the Merchants and Manufacturers of London, interested in the trade to America, praying to be heard by evidence and council. The Petition Was read by the clerk; it stated,

"That the petitioners contemplate, with the greatest anxiety and apprehension, the alarming consequences with which they are threatened from certain Orders in Council, purporting to be issued 'for the protection of the Trade and Navigation of Great Britain,' but on which they are induced, after mature consideration, to believe that they must be productive of the most ruinous effects; and that the petitioners are duty sensible of the necessity of making every sacrifice of personal interests to promote the strength and resources of the country in the present extraordinary crisis of public affairs; and, if the total change introduced into the whole commercial system of this country, and of the world, by the Orders Council, could be conducive to so desirable an object, the petitioners, great as their losses must be, would submit without a murmur; but, understanding that these orders are principally, if not wholly, recommended by an opinion that they will prove beneficial to the commercial interests of this, country, they feel it to be their duty humbly to represent their conviction that this: opinion is founded in. error, and that, if the prayer of their petition be granted, they shall be able to prove, that they must be productive of the most fatal consequences to the interest not only of the petitioners, but of the commerce and manufactures of the empire at large; and that the petitioners will abstain from enforcing, by any details, their apprehensions that these measures are likely to interrupt our peace with the United States of America, our intercourse with which, at all times valuable, is infinitely more so since we are excluded from the continent of Europe; to this only remaining branch of our foreign intercourse we must now look for a demand for our manufactures, for many of the most important materials for their support, and for supplies of provisions and naval stores necessary for our subsistence and defence; and the petitioners feel assured, that they will be able to prove, to the satisfaction of the house, that the neutrality of America has been the means of circulating, to a large amount, articles of the produce and manufactures of this country in the dominions of our numerous enemies, to which we have no direct access; and that the annual value of British manufactures exported to the United States exceeds ten millions sterling; and that, as our consumption of the produce of that country falls far short of that amount, the only means of paying us must arise from the consumption of the produce of America in other countries, which the operation of the Orders in Council must interrupt, and in most instances totally destroy; and that the people of America. even if they remain at peace with us, must, by a want of demand for their produce, and. by the general distress our measures must occasion, be disabled from paying their debts to this country, which may fairly be estimated to amount to the enormous sum of 12 millions sterling ; and that the neutrality of America, so far from being injurious to the other commercial interests of Great Britain, has promoted materially their prosperity; and that the produce of our colonies in the West Indies, of our empire in the East, and of our Fisheries on the banks of Newfoundland, has frequently found a foreign market by this means; and that, by the destruction of the neutrality of the only remaining neutral state, all possibility of intercourse with the rest of the world being removed, trade cannot possibly be benefited, but must necessarily be annihilated; and that the petitioners, feeling as they do most sensibly with their fellow-subjects the pressure of a war in .which their commerce has principally been aimed at by the enemy, would scorn to plead their distress in recommendation of measures inconsistent with the honour and substantial interests of their country; but they humbly rely upon the wisdom of the legislature, that this distress shall not be increased by our own errors; and they confidently believe, that if they are permitted to illustrate, by evidence, the. facts they have stated, and to explain many others which they shall here refrain from enumerating, they cannot fail to establish the conviction with which they are so strongly impressed, that the Orders in. Council Are founded on the most mistaken opinions, of the commercial interests of the empire, and must be particularly fatal to those of the petitioners; and therefore praying, that they may be heard, by themselves, or counsel, at the bar of the house, and he permitted to pro- duce evidence in support of the allegations of their petition, or that the house will examine into the nature and extent of their grievances in any mode which may appear advisable, with a view of affording such relief as the house may think proper."

Mr. Alderman Combe

moved that the Petition do lie on the table.

Sir W. Curtis

did not rise to oppose the motion, but because he thought that the house ought to be acquainted with all the circumstances under which the Petition had been framed. For some days an advertisement had appeared in the public prints, signed by many respectable gentlemen, requesting a meeting on that morning of merchants, manufacturers, &c. interested in the trade with America. Above 1000 persons had accordingly assembled; a fair discussion took place; an amendment was moved to the original motion for presenting a petition to parliament; and on the division, the chairman candidly declared, that the amendment was carried by a majority. He had not himself been present, but he understood, from the most respectable authority, that at least three parts out of four of the persons assembled were against the petition.

Mr. Alderman Shaw

having been present at the meeting alluded to, felt it his duty to state, that the petition just presented was not the petition of the majority of the meeting. On the contrary, a majority of at least two to one, declared against presenting any petition, and in favour of the amendment, which stated, that in the present critical situation of the country, and pending the important discussions with America, it would be inexpedient to present a petition to either house of parliament: On the subject of the Orders in Council, as well as on the merits of his. majesty's present servants generally, and particularly on the merits of the expedition to Copenhagen, he was convinced, that in the population of England 99 out of 100 were decidedly in their favour.

Mr. Alderman Combe

observed, that this last observation came with singular grace from the worthy alderman, who, during his mayoralty, had invited his majesty's late ministers to his table, and as the first toast after dinner, had drank success to them.

Mr. Alderman Shaw

observed, that in the peculiar circumstances under. which he was then placed, he. had, on the occa- sion alluded to by. the worthy alderman, thought it his duty as chief magistrate, to invite all his majesty's ministers, and also his majesty's ex-ministers, who had been the ministers of the crown When he had been admitted into the mayoralty. For Many of the members of the rate administration he felt the highest respect, and in particular, he should never forget the eminent services of one noble lord, whose support of the interests of his country at a most critical period, would be ever remembered by him with gratitude.

Mr. A. Baring,

having been chairman of the meeting alluded to, thought it but proper to state what was his opinion concerning it. The numbers, he should conceive, were between 4 and 500, and the majority about 4 to 3. If others had observed the same forbearance with the worthy .alderman (Curtis), and had abstained from attending a meeting with which they had no, connection, he had no hesitation in declaring that the result would have been very different from what it had turned out. The argument with many persons who attended the meeting seemed to be, 'we are connected with the West Indies; the west Indies are connected with America; so we are entitled to attend this meeting as persons interested in the trade to America.' The arguments of those who moved ,and seconded the amendment, however, he thought were somewhat curious, though probably they might not be peculiarly gratifying to the framers of these Orders in Council. They did not oppose the petition because they approved of these regulations, but because they were absurd and impracticable.

Mr. Maryatt

said, he was at the meeting of this day; and as the hon. gent. who Spoke last seemed to direct his eye so particularly towards him he must explain why he thought he had as good a right to be present as the hon. member himself. He said, he had property both in America and Jamaica: he had commercial interests and family connections with America; but these should not induce him to forget his great and paramount duty to his country. He thought the meeting concerned all who had commercial interests or connections with America, direct or circuitous. Persons therefore had a right to attend who had even no trade there. He believed a number not only of such persons, but of American citizens, were present; and they were heard with attention in the delivery of their Sentiments; and he believed also their opinions were quoted by others who spoke after them.

Sir. C. Price

said, he held in his hand a petition of a directly opposite description, from the merchants of London trading to the continent of Europe, who desired to express their confidence, that the Orders carried vigorously into operation would be the most likely means of inducing the enemy to abandon the system of exclusion to British commerce, which created the necessity of those orders.—The hon. baronet, however, was reminded by the Speaker, that the petition he proposed to offer must be deferred till the other was disposed of.

Mr. Sharp

should not have interfered in the discussion had it not been for what had fallen from the worthy aldermen. One of these hon. members declared, that his information was, that the majority was equal to three to one. The other, who was present, that it was two to one. This was a diminution in a moment of 50 per cent. The same hon. gent. however, had made a wonderful discovery in consequence of the result of that meeting; for although there, even according to his own account of the matter, the majority was only two to one, it enabled him to make this ingenious calculation; that 99 out of every 100 throughout the whole population of the country, not only approved of these Orders in Council, but of the whole conduct of ministers, and particularly of the attack on Copenhagen. This, however, only went to show how great reliance was to be placed on the hon. gent.'s computation, as to the comparative numbers at the meeting in question. The hon. gent. who was the chairman of the meeting, had estimated them at four to three; and, for his part, he had no hesitation in thinking that he viewed them more accurately in stating them at six to five. Such, however, had been the monstrous calculations made by gentlemen who disapproved of the petition! A great many, too, of those who did attend, were not interested in the trade. Even the two principal supporters of the amendment had described the Orders in Council by a very harsh but characteristic expression, that they were extremely foolish, but they conceived the situation of the country to be such as rendered it inexpedient to interfere in the measures of government.

Mr. Whitbread

was convinced the worthy alderman opposite (sir W. Curtis), after the description he had heard of the gentlemen who composed the meeting, would regret much that he had not attended it. His mercantile transactions were certainly equal to those of most gentlemen; and in point of zeal for ministers he yielded to no man. Another worthy alderman (Shaw),who did attend the meeting, had favoured the house with a discovery which he had made, that not only the majority of that meeting, but that 99 out of every 100 of the population of the country, approved of the Orders in Council; not of them merely, but also of the conduct of the present ministers in general; not of the general conduct of the present ministry but of the attack on Copenhagen in particular. The worthy alderman was well known to have a particular regard for 'the present ministers,' and to think that 99 out of 100 of the population of the country must approve of whatever they do. So he thought of the late ministers when they were the present minister; so he had now declared he did of their successors. It was to be hoped for the salvation of the country, that other ministers would again succeed to those now in office; and he had no doubt, if the worthy alderman lived to see that day, and were a member of that house, he would still continue to be eager in their praise, and ready to lend his testimony to the public feeling, in favour of the present administration.'

Mr. Hibbert

said he had great interest in Jamaica, which was much connected with America; but still he did not feel himself entitled on that account to attend the meeting.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

thought the house was obliged to the worthy baronet for the information he had given it, as the petition might else have been supposed to have come from a numerous meeting, instead of being, as it was, the petition of a few individuals, who, however respectable, were unquestionably the minority of the meeting.

Mr. Gordon

had formerly dealings with America; and though he had none at the present moment, he still thought himself entitled to attend the meeting, which he accordingly had done. He was mistaken, if, besides merchants trading to America, there were not at the meeting of this day, a number of American citizens.

Sir R. Peele

did not attend the meeting, because conceiving it to be called especially for the purpose of petitioning, and being of a contrary opinion, he esteemed himself excluded.

Mr. Mellish

had transactions with Ame- rica, and also lands there, of course he esteemed himself entitled to attend the: meeting.

Mr. Baring

said, that persons connected with the Spanish colonies could, not be fit persons to attend such a meeting. The room was absolutely filled with persons not interested in the American trade, and some gentlemen even brought down their clerks to increase the number.

Sir A. Piggott

thought, if thanks were due to the worthy baronet who started the present discussion, they were much more due to his hon. friend (Mr. A. Baring) who had :furnished the house with so. many important facts relating to the meeting; particularly, that it consisted, in a great measure, of persons not interested in the trade, and that the mover and seconder of the amendment, so far from thinking the Orders in Council to have displayed wisdom, treated them as foolish and impracticable. He put it to an hon. baronet (sir Peele) to say if there were not thousands of manufacturers at this moment without employment, or only with half employment?

Sir R. Peele

said that this was not attributable to the Orders in Council, but to the measures or rather no-measures of the late ministers.

Sir John Newport

said, what our manufacturers complained of was, that being distressed from other causes, their situation was made irremediable by these Orders of Council. He should, on a future occasiod, bring the state of Ireland, in consequence of these Orders in Council, before the house. It was impossible that America should be ignorant of the great quantity of flax-seed, the grand staple of Ireland, which she got from that country.

The petition was then ordered to lie on the table.—Mr. Alderman Combo moved, that the prayer of the petition for hearing counsel be granted. The Speaker stated, that by the forms of the house no two steps on the petition could be taken in one night. Mr. Combe then moved, that the petition be taken into further consideration to-morrow. Mr. Perceval wished it to be postponed, on account of the other important business which stood for that day. Mr. Combe said, he had discharged his duty, and he should not press. it unnecessarily on the house.

General Gascoyne

said, that he had a petition from the merchants of Liverpool to the same purport as that of hon. alderman. It was against the Orders in Council. He would take care not to fall into the error of the hon. aldeman; but move that it be taken into Consideration, with a view to propose Monday as the day.

General Tarleton

Observed, that though he was as desirous of popularity as any man, yet he would not compromise his duty on that account. He thought himself bound to declare, that the majority of his constituents were averse to measures that served only to embarrass government.

Mr. Sheridan

said, that the hon. general had fallen into a greater error than his hon. friend. The third reading of the bill stood for this day; and according to the proposed plan of proceeding, the measure might be out of the power of the house before the petition was presented. He asked, in what situation would the house he placed, in case the evidence should convince the house that the measure was a wrong One?

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

spoke to order, and the Speaker concurred with him, that the question then was merely, whether counsel should be heard in support of the petition?

General Gascoyne

observed, that his constituents who were in town had only got the petition that morning, and had had no time to instruct their counsel so fully as they wished to do. It was their desire that-their petition should go hand in hand with that of the American merchants; and as the consideration of that petition had been-postponed, he thought himself acting in. conformity with the wishes of his constituents, when he proposed a future day. In allusion to what his colleague had said about popularity, he remarked, that when a number of respectable merchants of Liverpool put a petition into his hands, he thought it his duty to present it, and not only that, but to procure them a hearing as soon as possible. He then. proposed Monday, but being told that both this and the two following days were pre-occupied, he chose Thursday as the day for hearing counsel.

General Tarleton

again said that he was desirous of popularity. If it was a sin to covet honour, he was the most offending Man alive.

Mr. Sheridan,

though sorry to interrupt the colloquy of the two colleagues, insisted upon the. awkward situation in which the house was placed, by the proceeding, and observed, that counsel must have, been instructed when the first petition came, and ought now to be ready.

Mr. Creevey

said, that hed seen counsel waiting in the lobby not an hour ago: and upon this information general Gas coyne expressed his hope, though the counsel could not be so well prepared as the importance of the case required, that the house would allow him to-expunge the word 'Thursday,' for the purpose of inserting 'now'.

Mr. Whitbread

adverted to the course which had been taken with respect to these petitioners, and contended that they had a right to be heard in a manner that might be efficacious. They ought therefore to be heard now, unless ministers would agree to postpone the third reading of the bill. These merchants were the most competent in England to give information on this subject. The right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer might say that this delay was vexatious: to him it might be so; but it was the duty of those who thought the measure a bad one, to support every thing which tended to procure additional information on the subject; and, besides, it was of no importance that the bill should pass immediately. He concluded by moving, that counsel should be heard now, instead of Thursday.

Lord Castlereagh

said, that the principle and the spirit of the rule of the house for bad any petition being received against a tax bill; and the bill for carrying into effect the Orders in Council was a tax bill, and ought not to be delayed for this petition. The petitioners might have two remedies. There was a clause in the bill permitting it to be altered or repealed in this session, and petitioners might have that remedy if they made out a case sufficiently strong to induce the house to think that eligible. The house might also apply to his majesty by address to forbear acting upon the bill. The bill might therefore proceed, and the petitioners be heard on the day most convenient for them.

Mr. Ponsonby

could not but admire the advice given by the noble lord to the house, which was to proceed to pass a measure which might be proved to be a very foolish one, before hearing what was to be said against it, and then address the king to make it a mere nullity. This would not add much to the respectability of the character of the house.

Sir. A. Piggot

argued, that the petitioners ought to be heard before .the passing of the bill, because they ought bona fide to have such a hearing as-would be efficacious, No,.inconvenience would result from the delay of the bill, as the trade was in the mean time carried on by licences.

Dr. Laurence

adverted to the. awkward situation in Which the house would be placed by the mode of proceeding proposed by minister. Though their object professedly was to starve the continent, yet they were in a hurry to give freedom to the trade to it. They had long slept over tins measure without assembling parliament to carry it into effect, and yet now they grudged the delay of a few days.

Mr. Morris

was anxious to promote any proceeding, which would afford an opportunity of being more fully informed on this measure; which seemed to be founded on French principles, and would be attended with the greatest mischief to all civilized nations.

Mr. Windham

condemned the proposed mode of proceeding, on account of its palpable absurdity. It was exactly this: that the house should decide first, and hear the objections afterwards. It resembled a police bill, which provided that a party might be whipped, and then allowed him the right to appeal to the session. The noble lord said that the spirit of the bill precluded petitioning against it. But it had no spirit, it was all letter; two grains of wheat .in two bushels of chaff; two grains of finance, in two bushels of trade. The trade was the spirit, the finance was only incidental; and yet the noble lord talked petitioning being contrary to its spirit, and objected to the delay of a few days!

Mr. Stephens

said, that there were two parties in this question. There were not only the petitioners but the public who were deeply interested in the bill. The petition appeared to him to be brought forward for no other purpose than to create delay. The hon. member very successfully replied to the last speaker.

Lord H. Petty, Mr. Adam, and Mr. Pole Carew supported the amendment. The latter, however, professed himself a decided friend to the bill, but thought it due to the petitioners, now that they had put themselves in the proper form, to hear what they had to say.

The question being loudly called for, a division took place: Ayes 66: Noes 99: Majority against the Amendment 33.—The petition was then ordered to be taken into consideration on Thursday.

[ORDERS IN COUNCIL BILL] The question that the bill be read a third time, was then put, and an amendment moved, that it be read a third time Monday se'might. Sir W. Scott rose, began to speak on the merits of the measure; but was called to order by Mr. W. Smith, who said that this was only a question of time; and in this he was supported by the Speaker.—After some the house divided, upon deferring the third reading of the bill till Monday se'nnight.

Ayes 59 Noes 122
Majority —63

The question being, then put, that the bill be now read a third time,

Sir William Scott

entered into a learned discussion upon the law of nations, which being in its nature conventional, was no longer binding than when the rules of this convention were adverted to by all parties concerned. When they were departed from by one party, the other was left to the guidance of natural justice; and by the laws of natural justice, retaliation was authorised as an essential part of self-defence. The right of retaliation the learned judge shewed to be limited only by the extent of the annoyance which called forth the exercise of it. If an enemy restricted himself to the ordinary mode of warfare, then it was incumbent upon the other belligerent to carry on hostility under the same restrictions; but if he resorted to unusual modes of warfare, then it was competent for his adversary to pursue hint even to neutral ground. The right was unquestionable; the only question was, the prudence of exercising it. The learned judge then proceeded to apply the general doctrine that he had laid down, to the present situation of this country, in relation to France and the other powers of Europe. He shewed that the French decree was intended to cut us off from all communication with the other European states; that it had been acted upon; that the interpretation of M. Decres was wholly. unauthorized; that this exposition stood formally. contradicted by decree of the supreme court of prizes at Paris; and that if there were any exceptions made to its general operation, those exceptions would only prove, that the government of France now was, what it had been always, even in its best times, fluctuating Arid capricious. He further contended, that even if it was not acted upon, which rested with the other party to prove, it was nevertheless an injury, because it was an insult to the country; which, in the opinion of an eminent person now no more (Mr. fox),me rited more to be chastised than any other species of injury whatever. As to the pleasure. of the Orders. in Council, he asserted that it was merely following up the principle which had been adopted in the Order in Council of Jan. 1807, and founded upon the doctrine which had been so ably maintained in the note of lord Howick to Mr. Rist; and even though the authors of these official papers chose to disclaim them, still he would .maintain the tenets which they set forth. Upon the morality of the measure, therefore, there was. no doubt. The question of its policy was more complex, and of its effects it was impossible to speak with certainty. He should lament exceedingly, if it should have the effect of producing any irritation in the American government. But he hoped, that they would, not only look to the act, but to the causes of the act, and that it would be viewed not as a measure of hostility against America, but against France. The present bill had his most decided support.

Dr. Laurence

entered into an extensive view of what was the law of nations, as expressed by the best writers on that subject, and, as it was to be deduced from the uniform practice, not only of this country, but also of France, Spain, Holland, Sweden, and other countries, from these earliest period. From these authorities. he shewed, that the Orders of the 7th of Jan. were justified by the established usage and avowed concurrence of all civilised nations, on the principle that one belligerent had an undoubted right to prevent a neutral front lending herself to another belligerent for the purpose of carrying on her coasting trade. But, with respect to the Orders of the 11th of Nov. he maintained, that though they were professedly founded on a principle of retaliation, they mere not actually so founded; as it was not what was expressed by ministers, an acquiescence in the orders of the enemy (if such had been the fact), but an adherence to the cause of the enemy, which was the legitimate ground of measures of retaliation.

Mr. Stephens

asserted the necessity which called for the Orders in Council, a necessity, in his opinion, so imperious, that it would have justified measures even of a more extensive nature.

Mr. Ponsonby

argued, that the Orders were absurd, and incapable of being carried into execution.

Sir c. Price

stated, that he had brought a Petition down to the house, which an informality alone had prevented him front presenting. It was from a number, of persons interested in the trade to America, and avowed their firm conviction, that the Orders in Council were a wise and salutary measure.

About three o'clock in the morning lord H. Petty proposed an adjournment of the debate, on the ground of the lateness of the hour, and the number of gentlemen who were anxious to deliver their sentiments. Mr. Windham supported the motion for adjournment.—On a division there appeared,

For the adjournment 71
Against it 145
Majority 71

While the Opposition members were in the lobby, Mr. Ponsonbv addressed them, and observing that they had ineffectually proposed the. postponement of the Mutiny bill from this day, for the purpose of allowing an opportunity for resuming the debate on the Orders in Council bill, requested that they would not quit the house, as the only justifiable resource left to them, was to force ministers to consent to an adjournment by repeated and incessant motions to that effect.—We were not re-admitted, but were informed, that Mr. Sheridan, after having reminded the house that on the Bill for the Suspension of the Habeas Corpus act, he had moved the question of adjournment 17 times in one night, moved that the house do now adjourn.—The house immediately divided

For the adjournment 67
Against it 140
Majority 74

On a motion that the Orders in Council be read, Mr. Henry Martin called for a division, which was as follows:

For reading the Orders 65
Against it 140
Majority 75

After some further discussion, it was at length agreed that the debate should be adjourned until to morrow.—Adjourned at half past five on Friday morning