HC Deb 16 March 1808 vol 10 cc1160-70

The house having resolved itself into a committee of supply, and his majesty's Message being referred to the said committee,

Mr. Secretary Canning

said, that as he did not expect that any opposition would be made to the proposition which he should have the honour to make, he did not think it necessary to preface it with many observations. He should, therefore, simply mention the circumstances connected with the subsidy stipulated to be granted to the king of Sweden, together with the grounds on which the engagement had been entered into, trusting that the liberality and wisdom of the house would enable his majesty to make good these engagements. The fidelity and steadiness of the king of Sweden in adhering in every circumstance, and under every change of fortune, to his connection with this country, was matter of universal admiration. It was true, that the circumstance of' this fidelity, exciting admiration, was not of itself a sufficient ground on which to grant pecuniary assistance. But the fact was, that the former treaty of Subsidy which had for its object the defence of Pomerania alone, expired as soon as the king of Sweden withdrew his force from Germany. The engagements which it contained were formed with a view to his co-operation with this country and the other powers of the north of Europe in that particular spot, and this force having been withdrawn in the month of Oct. last, the arrears of subsidy were paid up, and from that time down to the signing of the late treaty, his Swedish majesty had neither asked nor received any pecuniary succours from G. Britain. In the interval, a case had arisen in which his Swedish majesty had been called on, not merely to conclude a peace with France, but to join the confederacy against this country; which proposition he had not hesitated to reject, and, in consequence of the rejection of this proposition, he was now placed in the situation of being obliged to defend his own dominions. In these circumstances, this country, he thought, was bound by every consideration, whether moral or political, to come forward to his aid, and trusting that upon this general proposition there would be no difference of opinion, he should simply state the engagements that had been contracted. In the greater number of treaties of subsidy which had been contracted with foreign powers, the subsidies had been granted to procure the active co-operation of such powers in carrying on offensive hostilities against the common enemy. But in the present case, certain pecuniary succours were stipulated to be granted to a power not for the purpose of achieving conquest, but to enable that power to defend its own dominions, which were attacked in consequence of its steady attachment to British interests. Such a treaty of subsidy was not, however, unprecedented in its nature. A similar subsidy had been granted to the king of Prussia in the 7 years war. In other treaties of subsidy it had been usual to stipulate the amount of the force to be employed by the power subsidized, and the particular periods at which that force was to be brought into the field. But in the present case, as well as in the treaty of subsidy with the king of Prussia, to which he had just referred, it had been thought unnecessary to clog the treaty with any such stipulation. The only difference there was between the present treaty and the model on which it was formed was, that in the present instance government had reserved to itself a power of controul, by making it payable in monthly instalments, which was not reserved in the other, the whole sum having been advanced to the king of Prussia at once, leaving him to dispose of it as he judged proper. The whole sum stipulated to be advanced was 1,200,000l.; 100,000l. of which had been already advanced out of the vote of credit of last year, he therefore concluded with moving a Resolution, that 1,100,000l. be granted to his majesty, to enable his majesty to fulfil the engagements contracted with the king of Sweden.

Mr. Whitbread

rose for the purpose, not of objecting to a subsidy to the king of Sweden, but of declaring his sentiments respecting the actual situation of that monarch. Much as he admired the fidelity of his Swedish majesty, he did not think it superior to that which had been displayed by Austria; and if the king of Sweden was reduced to the same situation in which both Austria and Russia had been reduced, by the pressure of the war, he did not think it would be any impeachment of the honour and character of that prince, if he were to conclude a peace as they had done. He was of opinion, that the wisest policy which the king of Sweden could pursue in the present circumstances, would be to conclude a peace with France. And it was highly important for the government of this country to consider, that by offering him an inducement to persevere in the war, it might be contributing to bring him into a situation in which be might be obliged to accept of terms of peace much more disadvantageous than those he might now obtain. He reprobated in strong terms that article of the treaty which stipulated that the king of Sweden should not conclude a peace, or even a truce, with his enemies, without the concurrence of this country. Either this article was meant to be observed, in which case it might be attended with ruinous consequences to that monarch; or it meant nothing at all; and in this view he thought it highly blameable to bring such engagements into disrepute, by making them merely for the purpose of being broken. If it was binding upon one party, it was binding also upon the other; and would the right hon. secretary contend, that if a favourable opportunity occurred for this country's negotiating a peace with France, and the advisers of the king of Sweden should object to our availing ourselves of it, the British government ought to consider such an interference as an insurmountable obstacle in the way of negotiation? A similar engagement was contracted in the course of the last war with the king of Sardinia, by which we had bound ourselves not to conclude a peace with France, but upon the express condition, that he was to be reinstated in the whole of his dominions. This engagement was violated by the treaty of Amiens, and thus had brought disgrace upon the country. He did not mean to say, that we had acted wrong in concluding the peace of Amiens, but he insisted that we had acted extremely wrong in contracting an engagement which we were then obliged to. violate. Upon that article of the treaty, which stipulated, that an auxiliary force shall be sent to the king of Sweden, he observed, that a rumour had gone abroad, that a large force was to be sent by government to the Baltic, and now it was reported that this expedition was countermanded. He did not pretend to know the intention of the king's ministers upon this subject; but the particular mention made in the treaty, of the king of Sweden keeping his flotilla in readiness to act, shewed that there had been some idea of co-operation on the part of this country; a measure from which no good could possibly result either to him or to us. The hon. gent. next adverted to what he considered as a great omission in the treaty, namely, that it contained no stipulation on the part of the king of Sweden to co-operate in giving effect to the Orders in Council. This omission he thought the more remarkable, as the treaty concluded in 1801 at Stockholm, between this country and Sweden, did contain certain commercial articles; and he could not conceive, if his Swedish majesty's dispositions were such as they had been represented, why some stipulation of the nature of that to which he alluded, had not been introduced into the present treaty. He was of opinion also, that it would have been better, that ministers should have applied to the house of commons from time to time, to enable them to grant such pecuniary aid to the king of Sweden, as circumstances might require, than to ask the house to vote a large sum at once. If an Address had been moved to his majesty, he meant to have moved an amendment to that Address, in the spirit of the sentiments which he had now expressed; but as he understood, that it was not the intention of the right hon. secretary to adopt this mode of proceeding, he had himself drawn up an Address conformably to these sentiments, which, he should move when the Speaker resumed the chair, for the purpose of recording his opinion. In this Address he expressed his disapprobation of that article in the treaty in which it was stipulated, that the king of Sweden should not conclude a separate treaty with France; and his surprize at the omission in some stipulations in the treaty on the part of Sweden, to co-operate in giving effect to the Orders of Council; it also contained an opinion, that it would be better to vote pecuniary succours from time to time to the king of Sweden as circumstances might arise, than to vote a large subsidy at once.

Mr. Secretary Canning

put it to the house, whether it would be liberal and wise to dole out its bounty in small and illiberal pittances as had been proposed by the hon. gent. and whether it was not going far enough to make our assistance gradual, though it was not also arbitrarily bestowed. All that was meant by the article in the treaty by which it was stipulated that Sweden should not conclude a separate peace was, that this should not be done without the consent of the British government. And as to the omission of an express stipulation respecting carrying into effect the Orders in Council, he said that government had not only received the most satisfactory assurances on this head, but that the Swedish minister in this country was to be empowered by his government to arrange the details connected with this business, which could be more conveniently done here than in Sweden.

Mr. Ponsonby

was of opinion, that it would have been better to have given a sum at once to the king of Sweden, proportioned to his claims upon this country, than to give him a monthly subsidy, which, by inducing him to persevere in the contest, might lead eventually to his ruin. He had never had but one opinion respecting the subsidies which this country had granted to the powers of the continent, viz. that it would have been better for us to make a voluntary sacrifice of some advantages, than to have bestowed money in inducing them to enter into, or to persevere in, a contest, the invariable result of which had been to promote the aggrandizement of France. The wisest thing which ministers could do in the present circumstances, was to advise the king of Sweden to make peace with France as soon as possible: for even supposing, that in consequence of this event, that power should be compelled to join the confederacy against us, her co-operation would be feeble and reluctant, and therefore much less formidable to this country, than after France and Russia shall have succeeded in getting possession of all her means, and be thus enabled to employ them as they may think fit.

Mr. Secretary Canning

said, the present treaty was intended to enable Sweden to defend herself, not by any instigation of ours, but, from a sense of the fidelity and attachment which she had uniformly shewn to this country throughout the war, to assist her to make the best struggle in her power to extricate herself from the state into which she had fallen, from the circumstances and events of the war, without any responsibility of ours.

Mr. Ponsonby

said, he was glad to hear that the right hon. gent. allowed Sweden was brought into her present situation not by any persuasion of ours, but by the events of the war: she had, therefore, no call on us. He was happy to find there did not appear to be in the mind of the right hon. gent. any wish to induce Sweden to make an obstinate resistance.

The Secretary at War

cited the case of Portugal, to prove that no purchased peace could afford security against the arbitrary proceedings of France. Portugal had repeatedly purchased her neutrality, yet after all that country was seized and subdued by Buonaparte. As long as Sweden could defend herself, it was an advantage to G. Britain as well as to herself to enable her to hold out.

Lord H. Petty

wished the money to be given to his majesty's ministers in the shape of a vote of credit, to be by them applied according as they should find it necessary and proper to make the advances. The right of either party to make peace, ought to have been kept perfectly free. If the Orders in Council were to be the law, it was essential to take the best measures for their complete execution. He had great satisfaction in thinking that this money was advanced to Sweden merely for the purpose of defending herself and procuring peace, and not for the purpose of exciting useless and destructive wars.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, it seemed to him that which way soever ministers had made the treaty, they would have been, equally unlikely to meet with the approbation of the hon. gentlemen opposite; for they all differed in opinion with each other. The first hon. gent. thought it better to keep the money under the controul of parliament. The second was for granting it all at once to buy a peace; and the noble lord came in between these two extremes, and wished to have it as a vote of credit. In one part of the argument, they had contended, that Sweden could not make any effectual struggle, but must be compelled to make peace; and in another they insisted, that if we wished to make peace, Sweden might refuse to do so, and reproach us for at- tempting such a measure without her consent. He thought the very able and ample manner in which his right hon. friend had explained the subject, was a sufficient elucidation of it, and was convinced ministers were not likely to have obtained the entire acquiescence of the hon. gentlemen opposite, let them have acted how they would.

Mr. W. Smith

thought that as this was a bare treaty of subsidy, there ought not to be tacked to it any stipulations about binding this country not to conclude peace but in concert with Sweden. He thought, at all events, that at the same time that those political negotiations were going forward, there ought to have been a convention for arranging commercial objects.

The Resolution was agreed to, and the report was ordered to be received tomorrow.

Mr. Whitbread

then moved the following Address, which was negatived without a division: viz. "That an humble Address be presented to his majesty, humbly to represent to his majesty, that his faithful commons, always desirous of supporting the dignity of his majesty's crown, and the faith of engagements contracted by his majesty with foreign powers, will make good the Subsidy granted by his majesty to the king of Sweden. Nevertheless, his majesty's faithful commons feel it be their duty, to represent to his majesty; that in the present state of the contest with his majesty's enemies, his faithful commons would have been better satisfied to have answered such calls for pecuniary aid as his majesty might have thought expedient to make upon this house, for the purpose of assisting the king of Sweden, under such exigences as his fidelity to G. Britain may bring upon him, rather than to make any grant resulting from the terms of a specific convention. Humbly to represent to his majesty, that his faithful commons have seen, with great concern, by the 3d Article of the Convention with the king of Sweden, which his majesty has been most graciously pleased to direct should be laid upon the table of this house, that his majesty has bound himself 'not to conclude any peace or truce, or convention of neutrality with the enemy, except in concert and by mutual agreement with the king Of Sweden.' A species of engagement, which, as it appears to his majesty's faithful commons, ought never to be entered into excepting upon the most mature deliberation, and when the relative-situation of the contracting parties is far different from that in which G. Britain and Sweden now stand. That the experience of such contracts, made in the course of the late war with France, tend to prove that they cannot be binding on the weaker of the two contracting parties, because no manner of obligation can bind a state to its utter ruin; and in the peculiar situation in which Sweden now stands, it appears to this house, but too probable, that all the efforts of his majesty may not be sufficient to preserve her from submission to her enemies, whilst, on the other hand, the perseverance of Sweden in the contest, can in no way be beneficial to G. Britain, and the article in question may throw difficulties in the way of negociation for the restoration of the blessings of peace.—To represent to his majesty the surprize of this house, at not finding in the Treaty submitted to its consideration, any Article of Commercial Regulation between the two countries. His majesty's ministers having represented to this house, that the best hope of success, in the present contest, depended upon certain measures affecting the commerce of neutral nations, which are manifestly and avowedly impracticable without the co-operation of Sweden. It was natural to expect, that at a time when Sweden is to be defended with the blood and treasure of G. Britain, some stipulation should have been required from her, that she would not render totally ineffectual the measure which his majesty's ministers have repeatedly declared to be most efficacious, now remaining to be used against France.—That his majesty's faithful commons are the more disappointed at this omission in the present Treaty, because by the 5th Article of the Secret Convention entered into between his majesty and the king of Sweden, and signed at Stockholm on the 3d of Dec. 1804, it appears that commercial arrangements had become matter of discussion between the two powers, and that 'New points, whereby the commercial interests of the two countries might be more closely connected, were reserved for a particular act.'—ln these circumstances his majesty's faithful commons do freely grant to his majesty the supply necessary to make good the promise of his majesty's royal word, but at the same time they deeply lament, that such engagements should have been entered into as may tend to embarrass this country in negotiation: and, that stipulations are altogether left out, the omission of which may defeat the means now relied upon by his majesty's ministers for the successful prosecution of the war."

[JESUITS' BARK BILL.] The Chancellor of the Exchequer having moved that the house should resolve itself into a committee on this bill,

Mr. Whitbread

repeated his objections to the bill, which he characterised as a moat abominable measure, calculated only to hold the country up to universal execration. It was the first attempt to put on the statute book any of those ideas which evidently shewed that the moral character of England had been gradually deteriorating. One of those ideas was that infamous one, some time ago so prevalent, that in case of invasion no quarter should be given to the French troops, but that they should be all massacred, or confined for life to work, in mines and coal pits. The object of the bill was, like the old one of hedging in the cuckoo,' impossible. Great quantities of bark were on the continent, and he read a Parisian price current, to shew that bark was much lower in price there than what had been stated. There were, in this country, above a million of pounds of bark, which, in another sense of the word, had become a mere 'drug,' and it was impossible to sell it on any terms whatever. This bark had been imported under licenses from government. Several persons had invested their whole property in this article, and had, in his opinion, a right to call on his majesty's ministers to require that the public should take it all into their hands. Were they to be consumed for the purpose of carrying into execution the vengeance of the country? Were they to be treated as shells, the explosion of which involved their own destruction? The bill united in itself detestable cruelty with absurd folly. He therefore opposed the Speaker's leaving the chair.

Sir C. Price

defended the policy of the measure, and contended that it was perfectly justifiable as a mode of warfare. To his certain knowledge, yellow bark had been purchased in London at 10s. per lb. and after having paid 30 per cent. insurance had sold for a considerable profit in France. The withholding of this article must give a facility to the introduction of our manufactures, and in this point of view the measure was most humane, as it tended to relieve the distresses of our manufacturers. The opposition to this measure was part of that systematic plan of thwarting the measures of govern- ment, so undeviatingly pursued by the hon. gentlemen opposite, who, in addition to their proceedings in the house, had, by letters and otherwise, instigated the presentation of petitions for peace.

Mr. M. A. Taylor

asked by what right the hon. aldermen accused any member of a disposition to thwart the measures of government. Such an insinuation should never deter him from expressing his sentiments on any bill that might be submitted to the consideration of the house. This bill contained a proposition most degrading to the country, namely, to carry our hostility into the chambers of the sick. He denied that any attempt had been made on his side of the house to promote petitions for peace; on the contrary, they had discouraged such petitions.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

entered into a general defence of the bill, which he contended was not more devoid of humanity, than the bill for prohibiting the exportation of cotton wool, or any other measure which must operate in the first instance most heavily upon the poor of the enemies country, and only circuitously on the government whom it was most desirable to affect. He repeated, that the evils would not he attributable to this country, for that the French government would always have it in their power to remove them by pursuing a reasonable line of conduct.

Mr. W. Smith

argued against the bill, which he contended would extend those evils by which war was rendered so horrible, and would tend to re-plunge the world into a state of barbarism.

Sir W. Elford

defended the bill. The principle on which it had been opposed went to this length, that we ought to turn our artillery from the enemy, for a bullet was at least as fatal as a dysentery. We had a right to use every means by which the government of a hostile country might be induced to conclude a reasonable peace.

Mr. S. Lushington

said, that the principle of the bill met with his most severe reprobation. It would have been better to have withheld from the French the cloathing which it was well known they had obtained from this country.

Mr. Gordon

defended the bill. There was at present a depot of bark in this country equal to the consumption of 3 years; and he was convinced that France, and the other nations of the continent, must eventually resort to us for a supply of that article. After some further discussion the house then divided, For the Speaker's leaving the chair 92; Against it 29; Majority 63. The bill then passed through a committee.