HC Deb 05 June 1811 vol 20 cc445-55

The House having resolved itself into a Committee of Supply,

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

rose to propose a Vote of Credit, to the extent of which, he believed, there would be no objections, as it was the same that was granted last year. He should therefore move, That the sum of three millions be granted to his Majesty, as a Vote of Credit, to enable him to take such measures as may be necessary to defeat any enterprizes or designs of his enemies, and as the exigency of affairs may require.

Mr. Whitbread

said, that he should not have offered any observations on the present motion, if he had an expectation that other opportunities would occur before the prorogation, of stating to the House what appeared to him to be of great importance with respect to the interests of the country. It appeared to him that there could no longer be any doubt whether our commercial warfare with Europe and with America had or had not been successful. He was sure that this question was settled beyond all doubt in the minds of the suffering manufacturers, whose petitions had been that day before the House, and whose claims the Chancellor of the Exchequer had very reluctantly allowed to go a Committee. It had been already passed as a resolution by that House, "that since the year 1806, and particularly from the beginning of the year 1807, a system of proscription had been exercised by France which greatly diminished our exports to the continent." As far, then, as regarded the policy of this country with respect to Europe, it appeared, even from the resolution of that House, that the policy of this country had failed; and that the line of policy which France had adopted, as contrasted with our policy, and considered with respect to the objects which the enemy openly avowed, had been fully successful. With respect to America, also, the House had resolved, "that the intercourse with that country was uncertain and interrupted." It must be recollected, that a few years ago we had been told by the authors and advocates of the Orders in Council, that the trade with America would not be muck affected by them; that trade would force its own way; that America would soon see her true interests; and that our intercourse with that country would remain undiminished. America, at that time, told this country, that if she persisted in orders so contrary to the rights of independent nations, she would suspend the intercourse between the two countries. The authors of our Orders in Council anticipated no evils from this measure; but the distresses of our manufacturers now clearly proved that great evils had resulted from it, and that the loss of the American market had been severely felt in this country. No man attempted to deny the sufferings of our manufacturers, or to say that they were overstated in their petitions. Their misery was sufficiently well known to the world, and the only reason alleged for not going into a Committee was the impossibility of giving them any substantial relief. If the enquiry should, however, now take place, he hoped that it might still be possible to prevail upon ministers to retrace their steps with respect to America, and to reopen that market to our exports. We had been often told, that it was impossible to repeal those Orders in Council, until the French decrees should have been repealed. If, however, the Berlin and Milan decrees were now actually repealed, why not repeal the Orders in Council? If there were doubts whether the French had really repealed those decrees or not, should not some experiment be made to learn whether they were sincere or not? When it had been in the power of ministers to put this matter to the test, it appeared to him, that a noble lord (the marquis Wellesley) had shewn a dilatoriness, and a negligence of conduct, which was quite astonishing. In his negociations with the American ambassador, he appeared to shew a considerable degree of inattention. The American minister had left the country; the negociations had completely broken off, and must recommence when Mr. Foster should arrive in America. The communications between the two governments had now been published by America, and he could conceive no other reason for having denied them to the House of Commons but merely to gain time. He could not avoid feeling very sincere regret, that a minister of such talents and such temper as Mr. Pinckney should have left the country. There never was a minister whose patience and forbearance had been more put to trial than Mr. Pinckney's, and he thought that it would be hardly possible to find a negociator equal to him, not only for supporting the interests of his own country, but for discussing with fairness the points which were disputed between the two countries. The course of the communications respecting the revocation of the French decrees was this: on the 25th of August, Mr. Pinckney communicated to the marquis Wellesley the revocation, expressing an expectation that the Orders in Council would be revoked also. The receipt of this letter was not acknowledged until the 31st of August. On the 12th of October, the British merchants applied to the Board of Trade to know whether the Orders in Council would be revoked in consequence of the revocation of the French decrees. The vice president professed entire ignorance of the revocation on the part of France, and advised the merchants to call on the Chancellor of the Exchequer. That minister was then out of town; and no communication having been made to the merchants by the 9th of November, they, on that day, presented another memorial, and on the 12th of November, lord Bathurst saw the committee of merchants, and expressed a doubt of the decrees being really revoked by France, and a wish for some practical proof of it. The Committee immediately offered, as a way of obtaining this practical proof, to send off to France a rich American ship, which lay off Mother-bank, if she could obtain protection from the admiralty cruisers. This offer was refused. On the 19th the Committee saw lord Wellesley, who expressed himself to the same effect as lord Bathurst had done. They offered to him the same means of obtaining a practical proof, and were again refused. What could be more strange than that ministers, after having always professed that their Orders in Council should only subsist while the French decrees were in force, should yet neither take any measures themselves to ascertain whether the revocation was real or not, but should refuse the practical proof when offered by the merchants. It appeared as if ministers were afraid to give up their darling object. Lord Wellesley, however, said, that he would give an answer in a few days. No answer, however, did arrive, and on the 22d of December the merchants presented another memorial; and on the 29th they saw Mr. Hamilton, the Under-secretary, who told them that ministers had no satisfactory proofs of France having actually given up her decrees. They again presented a memorial, on the 12th of January, without any better success. It did appear to him that during all this time lord Bathurst and lord Wellesley had shown gross inattention to* those important interests which were involved in that question. On the 2d of November, the President of the United States published his proclamation, declare- ing that the Berlin and Milan decrees had been revoked. In consequence of this proclamation many vessels cleared out for France from America. Some of those vessels were taken by our cruisers, and the first of them was the Fox, the case of which was highly important, as governing the fate of the other vessels taken under similar circumstances. This vessel, the Fox, was claimed by the American minister on the ground that the French decrees having been repealed, the British Orders in Council ceased of course. To this claim no answer was made; but the king's advocate received a letter to suspend the proceedings until after the departure of Mr. Pinckney and Mr. Foster from this country. Sir William Scott was, however, the other day proceeding to give judgment against the claimants, and only suspended the judgment on its being stated to him that new evidence could be produced of the revocation of the French decrees. This new evidence was the letter of the duke of Bassano to the American Consul, Mr. Russel. Those who first brought forward these Orders in Council did so from the supposition that they would operate in favour of this country; but when they had witnessed the in effects of them, he should have supposed that they would have been glad to escape from them, and would have taken the earliest opportunity of moving for rescinding them. By their licences they had been in the daily habit of violating their own system, and now they seemed to wish to preserve only that part which had been proved to be most prejudicial. All reciprocity of intercourse between this country and America was now at an end. America was ready to send her exports to this country, but not to receive ours in return. Such, too, was our intercourse with France. She allowed us, for her own interest, to purchase from her articles of the first necessity, but she would admit no exports from this country. Ministers had frequently been warned, that their system was attended with this great danger,—that America might be driven to manufacture for herself, and then even if the present misunderstanding should be settled, we should no longer find the market which it was in our power to have retained. Our exports might be encountered in America by domestic regulations made to protect their own manufactures. By a report of the progress of manufactures in America, it appeared that in the year 1810, there had been manufactured in the State of New York alone, above 3 millions of yards of woollen cloth, 5,700,000 yards of linen, and 211,000 of cotton cloth. By this report it was certainly intended to shew America that she could do without England. Ministers appeared to him to have been grossly inattentive to a subject of the highest importance. Whether they expected war or peace, he could not say; but it appeared to him, that commercial war must end in actual war; and that if the Orders in Council were not rescinded, there must soon be conflicts between the vessels of the different countries.—He had already had an opportunity of delivering his opinion respecting the policy of this country towards the States of Europe. He should not hesitate still to say, that he wished the advantage might be taken of the present favourable posture of affairs to try whether peace were practicable or not. He knew that he was charged with being ready to accept any peace at any time: but he trusted that he would be as unwilling as any gentleman to accept of peace on terms that were not honourable for this country. He was ready to pay the warmest tribute of his admiration to the merit which had been displayed by lord Wellington. Nothing which could happen in future could make him retract from that praise which he had given to what lord Wellington had already done: but looking at the many glorious and sanguinary battles which had lately taken place, he saw no ground for confidently anticipating a favourable result to the war. He therefore thought that it was a time that it would be proper to try whether peace might not be obtained on honourable and reasonable terms.—The other points to which he wished to direct the attention of the House was of a nature purely domestic. He could not help thinking, that with respect to the state of his Majesty's health, the country had not been fairly dealt with. Every day, from the 20th of February down to the 25th of May, the public were led to believe, by the Bulletins which were published, that his Majesty was recovering, and would be very soon fit to reassume the reins of government; and yet it now appeared that he was extremely ill, and the public had but little reason to suppose him better than he was many months ago. It appeared to him that there ought to be another examination of the physicians before the session was closed. On the former examina- tion the physicians had said, that in proportion to the duration of the disease was the danger of a relapse. Now, if his Majesty were to recover and should be advised to re-assume his power when parliament was snot sitting, and afterwards relapse, parliament would have in the next session the same tedious and operose machinery to go through again for the purpose of supplying the deficiency in the executive. When from the answers of the physicians it appeared that a relapse would be highly probable, he thought it was evident that some measures ought to be taken to prevent the country from being again for many months without any executive government. He had already given notice of an intention to propose some measure to guard against the recurrence of such a calamity, and he should certainly take an opportunity before the close of the session, of proposing something to that effect.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

allowed that on a question of supply every gentle-man had a right to introduce whatever topics he thought proper into the discussion. He trusted, however, that the House would excuse him from going at any length, into the details of the various subjects introduced by the hon. gentleman in the Speech he had just delivered, and be content with such observations as he thought it necessary to make upon the most prominent parts of it. When he submitted the Resolution he had just laid on the table to the consideration of the Committee, he had not entertained the slightest idea that the hon. gent. would go into so wide a field of argument on subjects, some of which, according to notice, he meant to bring forward for distinct and specific matter of debate. He could not, therefore, be supposed to come prepared to answer them fully when thus unexpectedly intoduced. With respect to the commercial question, he could only say, that there was no pretence for stating, in consequence of the petitions which had been alluded to, that the system had failed on our part, and that it had succeeded on the part of France. It was by no means fair to infer, that because certain extraordinary circumstances had happened in the course of the commerce of Europe, our trade and manufactures had alone been injured, and that France had not suffered in as great a proportion. This was a question on which many persons of great authority widely differed; and it was at present certainly undetermined. He for his own part, verily believed, that had we never made our Orders in Council, not a single part of the trade of the continent would have been different from what it now was, but the situation of France would undoubtedly have been far more advantageous, and her commercial concerns more prosperous, had we, as the hon. gentleman seemed to desire and recommend, acquiesced tamely in those decrees, and thereby degraded and debased the country by a sacrifice of its best and dearest rights, the careful maintenance of which had brought us to our present state of glory and comparative prosperity. If we looked to the affairs which had been passing in the Peninsula, we should find, that France, during the last six months, had not been able to pay her armies: on the contrary, we had in all that time never failed to pay ours to the utmost farthing. This was one instance of our superiority and advantage over France, for our trade alone had enabled us to do it; but if we turned our eyes to the general state of distress which pervaded the whole continent of Europe we should find that our own difficulties, great as they unquestionably were, bore but a small proportion to what were experienced abroad. The effects of our Orders in Council were not, as the hon. gent. and others had said, to prevent commerce, but to encourage it and that they had done this one strong proof was, that in addition to his Milan and Berlin Decrees, the tyrant of Europe was obliged to resort to others which condemned our goods to be burnt, in order to get rid of them—those very goods which we had the means of getting into Europe in spite of all his tyranny and vigilance. He believed, indeed, there never was a proceeding which rendered more detestable the despotism of the ruler of France, than that of the above result, flowing altogether from our Orders in, Council. With regard to what had fallen from the hon. gent. as to our commerce with America, he believed that no man in this country ever seriously believed the Milan and Berlin decrees were absolutely repealed. It was true they had been repealed prospectively and conditionally; that was to say, either when Great Britain should give up her orders in council, and also her blockade, which was stated to be a novelty. If we should consent to give, up these, and all the maritime rights on which our present power was founded, then they were to be repealed; or, if we refused to give up our maritime rights, and America should take up arms against us, then they were to stand repealed as to America, but not as to us. Could any man suppose that this country would bear such an idea, or that it would endure any set of ministers who could countenance such degrading proceeding upon such bare and doubtful evidence! The manner in which the intelligence had been brought to us was not to be depended on; it came in such a questionable shape, as would by no means warrant us in repealing our Orders in Council. He hoped the House would not think it necessary that he should answer as to the particular applications made to lord Bathurst or lord Wellesley, or the answers returned; but he knew very well that his Majesty's ministers had never any wish to delay rescinding the Orders in Council, whenever they could be fairly satisfied that the Milan and Berlin decrees had been actually repealed. The hon. gentleman had asked whether he would agree to lay before the House such papers relative to the dispute with America as had not been published by the American government. To this he would answer, that if the hon. gent. had not the whole of them in his possession, he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) would not consent to produce one, because, in the present state of the negotiation, nothing perhaps might turn out more injurious to the interests of both parties.—The hon. gent. had in the next place proceeded to the state of the Peninsula. On this head the Chancellor of the Exchequer said he gave him credit for a candid retraction of a former opinion; and the praises he bestowed on lord Wellington were highly honourable to his feelings. He could not, however, help thinking, that when the hon. gent. once took, up any gloomy view in the prospective, he was not able easily to get rid of it, or to suffer it to brighten on his vision. Last year the hon. gent. wished every man we had in the Peninsula were at home; and now, after all our late brilliant successes, the hon. gent. had again his doubts as to the final issue of our efforts there. For his own part, he certainly could not venture to predict what would be the ultimate fate of our army in the Peninsula; but our prospects were, in his mind, much better now than they were when the hon. gent last year looked on them with so desponding an eye. He might perhaps from the commencement of our inter- ference have entertained more sanguine hopes of success than many other, but still he thought, as we were now joined by our allies with more spirit and enthusiasm than they at first evinced, and our generals having so repeatedly shewn that they could beat the most celebrated generals and the best disciplined troops of France; we might, without being accused of too much presumption, venture a hope, that our future efforts would not be in vain, and that we might still look forward without fear or dismay.—The hon. gent. had said, he thought we should still keep our eye fixed on peace, but feared the experiment had never been fairly tried. Whether that was the case or not, he would not pretend to decide. The last time it had been tried it was by those of whom the hon. gent. of course could not but think well, and they had tried it so long, that he believed the length to which the negociation was carried, had been universally allowed to have produced the most injurious consequences, not only to this country, but to all who were at that time in alliance with us.—As to the question of his having doubted the power of the House to grant money in the case of Mr. Palmer's claim, and then coming to it a few days afterwards for a vote of credit, he considered the cases to be very different, the one being the disposal of the supply, the other the supply itself.—With regard to the remaining argument respecting the King's health, it was time enough to speak of that when the hon. gentleman should bring forward the subject. All the argument urged for it was, that parliament, in case of the King's recovery, might be improperly prorogued; but there was no more reason to suppose that in this case, than in any other. He was then asked, whether he would have any objection to produce the examination of the physicians before the queen's council. He must confess he saw no reason for it at present, but it was time enough to debate that when the question was regularly brought before the House. Upon the whole, he was glad to find that the hon. gent. had no idea of refusing his assent to the motion, but had availed himself of the opportunity, rather for the purpose of delivering a speech than of obstructing the proceedings of government.

Mr. Rose

defended the Orders in Council, and the answers given to the merchants by lords Bathurst and Wellesley.

Mr. Baring

spoke against the Orders in Council. He thought ministers might very safely and properly have rescinded them on the declaration by France to America that the Milan and Berlin decrees had been repealed. It was evident from the conduct of the French government, that Buonaparté was fearful we should think they were repealed, and dreaded our acting accordingly. He (Mr. B.) was of opinion, that if ministers had rescinded the Orders in Council at that time, Buonaparté would have been greatly mortified.

Mr. Whitbread

asked the right hon. gent. to judge of the effects of their Orders in Council from the petitions on their table from so many thousands of their hitherto flourishing manufacturers? To consider if there could be found any where a body of men more distressed? If in any situation or in any country, they could find a body of industrious and ingenious men more helpless, or hopeless, than they. Then they might plume themselves on their Orders in Council, but not till then.

The Resolution was then put and agreed to.