HC Deb 11 March 1808 vol 10 cc1072-6
Mr. R. Dundas

rose, pursuant to notice, to move for the appointment of a Select Committee, to inquire into the present state of the Affairs of the East India Company. He stated, that the same causes which created the deficit which existed last year, still continued to operate, and that there was a deficit now to a very considerable amount. He wished, therefore, that a committee should be appointed to investigate the cause which had produced, and which tended to perpetuate this deficit, and to suggest the most proper remedy to apply to it. Advice, had been expected from the noble lord who now presided over the affairs of India, which might be useful in guiding the inquiries of the committee, but none had been as yet received. He thought, however, that the documents to which the committee might have access would be sufficient to enable them to make a report on the subject. He concluded by moving, "That a committee be appointed to inquire into the present state of the Affairs of the East India Company."

Mr. Creevey

rose, not for the purpose of opposing, but of supporting the motion; convinced as he was that it was only by a committee, that the situation of the East India Company could be properly investigated; and that the statements of the different budgets had been delusive from beginning to end. He asked, whether it was the intention of the right hon. gent. that the committee should confine their inquiries to the financial and commercial state of the company, or that they should extend their investigation to its territorial concerns?

Mr. R. Dundas

replied, that it was his wish that the inquiries of the committee should be the most comprehensive, though he did not imagine that they would consider it necessary to investigate the whole system of Indian policy under the different governments for many years past—The motion was agreed to, and a committee of 21 members appointed.

[ORDERS IN COUNCIL BILL.] The order of the day was read, for resuming the adjourned debate on the Orders in Council bill.

Mr. A. Baring

spoke against the bill. He thought it was unjust as to neutrals, and inexpedient as a measure. The chief ground taken by ministers was stated in the preamble to the Orders in Council, to be, that the government of France had issued certain decrees. The question was, how far we were justified in making neutrals suffer for this. No retaliation could, in his opinion, be justified on the principle assumed by ministers, that neutrals must take the consequences of the retaliation which had become necessary on the part of this country. Mr. Armstrong, the American minister at Paris, had applied to the minister of marine in France, on the subject, and was informed by him that the Decrees were not to be acted upon with respect to America. No better authority could be applied to, and it was not necessary for him to enquire farther. We had, therefore, rashly cast away the American trade. He answered the arguments that had been urged on the subject of premiums on insurance; he thought that we ought to have waited another month to see how the Americans would act, and was of opinion, that if the doctrine of ministers was admitted, it would be impossible that neutrals could carry on any trade whatever.

Mr. Rose

denied that any inflammatory language had been used on his side of the house with respect to America; and expressed a wish that the gentlemen opposite would beware of attempting to persuade America, that a disposition existed in the present government to provoke war with that country. No man deprecated such an event more than he did, and yet he denied that the benefits resulting from American neutrality were so great as they had been represented. It had been said, that the Americans were the chief instruments in conveying our manufactures to the continent. This, however, was not the fact, and there were many present who knew it as well is he did. The exports to America had been stated at ten millions. They were certainly upwards of nine millions, but of these not much above half were consumed there, and therefore, the Americans were our carriers to a considerable extent; but in case of a war with America, there were other channels by which the surplus above the consumption of America could be carried to the places where it was wanted.

The Solicitor General

deprecated the taunts and aspersions thrown out against the good faith, honour, and morality, of the existing government of the country; aspersions at all times mischievous, but at the present awful crisis, alarmingly dangerous, as calculated to excite a distrust in the people, that might be attended with fatal consequences. The learned gent. then contended, that the question of municipal law had been given up by the other side, and that there was not an authority in any one book, from the earliest times of the history of this country, to justify the objection of the law of nations being violated in the Orders in Council. He proceeded at length to invalidate the objections to, and justify the arguments in favour of the justice, policy, and legality of the Orders in Council.

Mr. Grattan

was of opinion, that the name of the country, and the character of the country, were the only strength which it retained upon the continent; and that whatever was fatal to its character, must be fatal to its interests. Viewing the measure before the house as inconsistent with justice, and of course, injurious to the character of England, he felt himself bound to oppose it. He deprecated the idea of acting upon the principles of France, by pursuing the system which gave birth to this measure, and thus taking away the best of our friends, by involving us in war with America. No measure should he more studiously avoided by England, than that which threatened to deprive us of the affections of America or was likely to lead to a war with America or was likely to lead to a war with country. For the effect of a war with America, would be to render the interests of America, would be to render the interests of France triumphant, and to engage our fleets in the service of the enemy. None of the arguments of the learned gent. who preceded him, served to shew that the empire would be benefited in its financial, commercial, manufacturing, or political interests, by these Orders in Council, while the evils they menaced were obvious. There were two capital faults in the speech of the learned gent. the one of law, the other of fact. He was erroneous in his definition of the law of nations, and his conception of the principles of the late ministers. For the law of nations could never sustain the notion, that because the decree of one belligerent might affect the interest of neutrals, the other belligerent was warranted in controuling the trade of neutrals altogether. And in order to understand the principles of the late ministers, gentlemen had only to look to the letter of lord Howick to Mr. Erskine, and to the memorial of lord Holland and lord Auckland to the American commissioners, from both of which it would be seen that the further proceeding which the late ministers proposed to take against neutrals, were only in case they acquiesced in the French decree. They did not call upon neutrals to resist that decree, as the learned gent. argued; and therefore the assertion was unfounded, that the present ministers acted upon the principles of their predecessors. According to these principles, America, not having acquiesced, should not have been proceeded against upon the grounds stated. Indeed, the faith of the British government was pledged to America in the dispatches he had referred to, that no such proceedings should be. taken.—The right hon. gent. laughed at the idea of reducing the tone of the enemy, or pressing him to peace, by any privations the operation of this bill might produce upon the continent. We might refuse our jesuits' bark to the French soldiers; we might inflict pains and penalties by the acrimony of statutes upon those who were saved from the severity war; but the calculation was contemptible, that by such an expedient, or by refusing tea and sugar, we could coerce the French or Spaniards, or least of all Buonaparte. On the contrary, we should only enable that potentate to injure our reputation and inflame the prejudices of his subjects against us. Therefore this measure would not injure the enemy, while it would expose us to odium.—With regard to the commercial effects of the bill before the house, the question was, whether it would be politic in us to deprive France of her commerce? Such might be the policy -of Buonaparte, but it could not be ours; for France deprived of commerce, would become more formidable to us; she would become a nation of soldiers. But if the commerce of the continent were done away, what was to become of the commerce of England? France and England would return to their natural relations, and if so, the advantage must be on the side of the enemy; therefore it was quite absurd for England to talk of destroying commerce.—But the effect of this measure upon Ireland was peculiarly alarming, and must be more so. Flax seed, so essential to her staple trade, was, in the proportion of four-fifths of her annual consumption, imported from America, as appeared from accounts on the table. It was said that the stoppage of the continental trade would give the Irish trade an advantage, by excluding the competition of the linens of Germany; but what was the fact? At the last Irish market the sale of linen was not beyond one-fifth of its usual quantity, while its price was depreciated at the rate of ten per cent. for home consumption, and twenty per cent. for the foreign market. Another, and a serious injury to Ireland, would result from the loss of its commerce with America, in consequence of the supply of staves; one of those articles which she annually used in her provision trade, and for other purposes, and imported from that country. Ireland, therefore, must be peculiarly affected by an American war; indeed, she suffered so much by the Orders in Council, that should they be persisted in, some separate provision ought to be made for that country.—An American war, however, appeared to the right hon. gent. to be much more dangerous on other grounds than any that could arise out of mere commercial considerations. He called upon the British parliament to consider the consequences of separating Great Britain and America, and thus dividing and weakening the only force that remained in the world, to sustain the character of liberty, to hol5d out hopes to the continent. The right hon. gent. concluded with exhorting gentlemen to reflect, that any loss to America or England, would but add to the accumulated gains of France, would but advance the strength of that power which was equally the enemy of both.

Mr. Bankes

maintained, that, as far as any other nation was concerned, we were not guilty of any violation of the principle of justice by our adoption of the present measure. But, when he looked at it in a commercial view, as far as regarded our own manufactures, he confessed that he, for one, was deficient in information as to that point; it was not unlikely that some other gentlemen might he in a similar predicament.—After some further debate the house then divided for the third reading of the bill; Ayes, 168; Noes, 68; Majority 100.