HC Deb 17 April 1812 vol 22 cc425-40
Sir Charles Mordaunt

presented a Petition from several merchants, manufacturers, and other inhabitants of the town of Birmingham, setting forth,

"That the Petitioners most humbly represent to the House, that the industry and ingenuity of British manufacturers, aided by the spirit of our invaluable constitution, have produced those great mechanical improvements, and called forth that division of labour, which have given to the merchants of this country a pre-eminence in foreign markets, and have greatly contributed to support that naval superiority which has hitherto constituted the strength and security of the nation; and that not only the revenue, but the very existence of society in its present state in this country, depends upon the prosperity of its manufactures and commerce; and that they view with the deepest regret the present ruinous situation of the manufactures and commerce of the United Kingdom, and are decidedly of opinion that the Orders in Council, by closing their commercial intercourse with the United States of America, are a principal cause of the evils they deplore; and that they consider the system of licences as a virtual acknowledgment of the impolicy of the Orders in Council, giving relief to their inveterate enemy, affording a just cause of complaint to those whom they desire to consider their friends, degrading to the character of the British merchant, subversive of morality, and highly injurious to the navy of Great Britain, a system which, at the same time that it affords a partial and dear-bought assistance to the commerce of the metropolis, renders not the smallest relief to the distressed manufacturers of the United Kingdom; and that, when nearly all the channels of trade to the continent of Europe are closed, the commerce of the East, possessed by an exclusive monopoly, and the national expenditure unparalleled in the annals of the world, the Petitioners deem it incumbent upon them earnestly to recommend to the consideration of the House, the propriety of revoking those measure which the Petitioners conceive to have been originally contrary to the recognised laws of nations, inconsistent with the principles of sound policy, and which threaten to involve this kingdom in a war with its most valuable commercial connection, America, a country linked to England by the powerful affinities of common origin, similarity of language, laws and manners; and that, in the opinion of the Petitioners, the direct tendency of the Orders in Council is to force America upon her own resources, and to oblige her to become a manufacturing nation much earlier than, in the natural course of events, would be the case; and that the town and neighbourhood of Birmingham, containing a most numerous population, and being unquestionably one of the most important manufacturing districts in the British empire, have greatly depended upon a friendly intercourse with the United States of America, and are suffering most severely under the operation of the Orders in Council; and that, if this destructive system be persisted in, thousands of laborious and respectable mechanics will inevitably be deprived of their present partial and precarious employment; and whilst the Petitioners deplore their distressed situation, aggravated by the advancing price of every necessary of life, their concern is greatly heightened by the consideration, that the capital of the merchants and manufacturers is rapidly absorbing in stock, constantly depreciating in value, their ability to participate in the increasing burdens of the state pro-portionably diminishing, and their efforts consequently paralysed, at a period when all practicable means should be resorted to for cementing national union, and supporting with vigour the momentous contest in which we are engaged; and earnestly praying the House to take measures for obtaining a revocation of the Orders in Council."

On the motion that the Petition do lie on the table,

Mr. Baring

rose, and said, that it was impossible for him to see Petitions of this kind, signed by 14,000 persons, presented to that House, without feeling a sensation of regret that they should so silently be ordered to lie on the table. He could not think of the distresses under which the Petitioners laboured, and which in other places had led to confusions and riots of the most alarming kind, without in some measure calling the attention of the House to the subject. The effects which these Orders in Council were calculated to produce were now seen on the people of England. The present Petitioners were not disloyal or disaffected persons—they were not men disposed to obstruct the government—but to support it. They had even been willing to suppose that the measures adopted were salutary ones, and, in expectation of a change for the better, the masters had gone on keeping their workmen in employment, though to a limited extent; till now, seeing themselves reduced to ruin by their exertions to carry on their trade under every disadvantage, and those under them brought to a slate of starvation, they could no longer shut their eyes against the conviction, that their calamities arose from the obstructions imposed by the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer on commerce. It was impossible for any one to converse with those persons who had come up in order to present those Petitions, without being convinced of these facts—that there were great orders from America which the manufacturers could not execute, and that, they had, in their different lines of business, great stocks of goods which they could not export, on account of those obstructions, all of which arose from the Orders in Council. It was not his intention now to go into any discussion on the policy of the Orders in Council; he should only express a hope that when all the Petitions on the subject were presented, some gentleman would bring forward the question, and that the House would no longer be led astray by speculative opinions, but would listen to the statements of those who were really interested in the question, and who so severely felt the weight of the pressure and distress brought upon them by these Orders in Council. The government of this country began by excluding the trade of neutrals; then they adopted measures which they thought were calculated to distress the enemy; and, in what had this ended, but in the complete ruin of our own manufactures?—and in granting licences to bring into this country the manufactures of our enemies, for which the right hon. gentleman had found a market.—If this was not the language of their printed licences, he could not say what those licences meant, extending, as they did, to lawns, laces, silk, perfumery, and all other articles of French manufacture. If this country and France had been in a state of perfect peace, there was not another article which France could have asked permission to import into this country, save only wine and brandy;—and the only condition required for all this was, that there should in return be loaded and exported from this country, goods to the amount of 5l. sterling, for every ton's burden of the vessel.—This was the species of reciprocity, which the right hon. gentleman established for the manufacturers and traders of this country; and the House could not well err as to the opinion to be formed of such measures, when they saw from the Petitions on the table what was the result. This 5l. per ton mentioned in the licences was merely nominal, and in lieu of this 5l. there might be imported into this country to the amount of 5,000l. He hoped the right hon. gentleman would now explain to the House, what reciprocity there was in this trade which he had given us, and which no commercial man was able to understand. The right hon. gentleman said, indeed, that our manufacturers were in a state of suffering at the time these Orders in Council were passed; but there was no statement from any of the manufacturing towns to warrant such an assertion. He could tell the right hon. gentleman, and so would all these Petitioners, that at the time alluded to, the trade with America was rapidly increasing, and was greater than any thing which he could obtain for them from all the continent of Europe.—He was sorry to think that one of the means of alleviating the distresses, under which our manufacturers now laboured, namely, that of throwing open the trade to the East Indies, instead of being a boon would increase their sufferings, while it endangered the safety of our Indian empire. Throwing open that trade, he was satisfied, could never materially increase the demand for the manufactures of this country in the East, and this would operate as an addition, rather than a diminution of the distresses at present felt by our manufacturers, and would in an especial manner disappoint the expectations of those who speculated in adventures to the East. In these circumstances, he contended, that the House was called on to appoint a committee, to consider in what manner the sufferings of the manufacturing interests could most effectually and materially be diminished. What the House could do, they were called on now to do it was plain, that no good was to be expected from the fanciful and visionary speculations in which the right hon. gentleman had been indulging.

Mr. Rose

said, as the Orders in Council would soon, as stated by the hon. gentleman, come before them for general discussion, he would now abstain from that subject so incidentally introduced. With respect to the Licence trade, too, as the papers and licences were to be laid on their table on Monday; it would, perhaps, be as well to leave that matter till a fitter time, when the necessary information was before them. The hon. gentleman had said, that for the value of 5l. per ton exported, all the manufactures of France were permitted to be brought into this country—but he had not stated, that on these manufactures so heavy a duty was imposed, as sufficiently to protect the British trader. On linen and lawns, for instance, there was a duty of 60 per cent.; and, as for lace and cambric, the permission to import them, be believed, did not add a single yard to the quantity brought into the country; and it was upon this principle, that all administrations had permitted them to be imported. He trusted, the House would not allow itself to be drawn into a discussion every day on the same subjects. As for the iron manufacturers in Dudley and Birmingham, he knew, that they felt the existing pressure more than any other description of persons, as their articles were more limited to the American market. But the House, on discussing the subject, would be able to see, whether or not our American trade was injured by the Orders in Council, which were not issued for the purposes mentioned by the hon. gentleman, but for the purpose of retorting upon our enemy, France. No doubt, the manufacturers in this country were, at this moment, suffering greatly; but the question was, whether their sufferings proceeded from these Orders, or, as he contended, from the measures of Buonaparté? If the revocation of the Orders would hurt the country generally, though it might relieve a certain proportion of distress, they were placed in a very painful dilemma, in deciding upon the line of conduct incumbent upon them as a legislature, to pursue, either to come to that revocation, or continue to lock up America from trade. No person could feel more sensibly than he did for the distresses of our manufacturers, and he was satisfied their motive in petitioning was most pure; but it by no mans followed that those distresses were occasioned by the Orders in Council. In Birmingham he was happy to think, that the manufacturers still continued to keep the workmen employed, though the pressure upon them was great; and he had also the satisfaction of understanding, that the poor's rates had been reduced in Birmingham within the last three years.

Sir C. Mordaunt

confirmed the statement, that Birmingham was not actually in that state of distress which warranted the use of such a hard word as "starvation." Such an allegation ought not to go forth uncontradicted. It was true that Birmingham suffered in common with all other places in the empire, but the want of employment had hitherto not been felt there. At the same time he was aware, that distress of that kind must soon attach to the manufacturers, as, from their immense stock on hand, they must either find a market, or cease to employ their workmen. As a proof that they had not yet been severely afflicted, he corroborated the statement of the right hon. gentleman who preceded him, that the Poor's Rates had decreased, and noticed that the recruiting service was very slack. As for America, she could not do without Birmingham—she could not even shave herself, or catch her mice without their aid. He had only further to notice, that the signers of this Petition were loyal men, who, if they were convinced that even their immediate privations were for the good of the country, would be content to retire from trade, and dig potatoes in their gardens.

Mr. Whitbread

conceded that the hon. baronet had given a true description of the condition of Birmingham; but while he gave credit to the hon. baronet, he was also bound to believe what was stated by the petitioners, who were Birmingham men, and whose account in some points varied very much from his. They stated, that if the Orders in Council were not revoked ruin would follow, and he perfectly believed the fact. It was true the labourers had not yet felt what it was to be out of employment, because the manufacturers, in an exemplary manner, and highly to their honour, bad in these perilous times forgone all those advantages to which commercial men usually looked—they had exhausted their capital for the sake of employing their men, and avoiding those dreadful consequences and disorders, the end of which it was not easy to foresee, but of which every moment was bringing them tidings from various quarters of the kingdom. In such circumstances, the House was peculiarly called on to do all that in them lay, to ward off impending ruin from persons of this meritorious description. All these things demanded enquiry, and proved the expediency of referring it to a committee to ascertain, by their deliberative wisdom, if in their complaint these manufacturers assigned the true causes, and what could be done for their relief. The House would compare the march of the right hon. gentleman this year with his march the year preceding. Last year, when a calamitous case was stated, though by no means comparable with the present, out of respect to the petitioners, although he knew that their prayers could not be attended to, he had agreed to, or rather himself proposed, the appointment of a committee to examine that case. But now all enquiry was refused. He asked the right hon. gentleman to say, if he would consent to allay the exasperated feelings of the country; and if it was his intention, now when he saw the whole heart of England in confusion, to refer the matter to a committee to enquire if the complaints made were well founded, and, if it must be so, to tell the unhappy complainants there was no relief? Last year, upon a most extraordinary report as ever came from a committee, exchequer bills for the relief of our great manufacturers had been issued, the whole of which had been employed in continuing the labours of the poor. Of these bills one instalment had fallen due, and was paid—another instalment was due to-morrow. Now had not the right hon. gentleman been told, that so great was the distress of the persons assisted, that having expended the money in the creditable way he had mentioned, they were unable to make good or meet this payment? Birmingham, they were informed, had not suffered actual distress; but if not so, it was on the very verge of suffering. The House had been taught by the calculations of the right hon. gentleman to expect that the master manufacturer would be completely relieved, and instead of that they found he could not repay the money advanced for his aid! Was it not a time then to take these petitions into consideration? and did it not become the right hon. gentleman to consent to a committee to enquire into the effects of the Orders in Council, and to ascertain whether or not they were the causes of these calamities? He could not help thinking the hon. baronet had been rather indiscreet in the way in which he had spoken of America. If America was shut, Birmingham must be idle; and if idle, the population would starve. Her ports then must be opened, either by necessity or by policy. Policy had hitherto had a contrary effect; and he disliked the taunting tone in which it was said, that America could not even shave herself, or catch her mice without our aid. It was insulting to America, to tell her, she was so dependant on Birmingham, that she could not do the most trifling thing without aid from that place. The hon. baronet might until lately have told us that America could not ride her horse, that she could not shoe her horse, that she could not drive a nail without Birmingham. America however had learned to ride and shoe a horse, without the aid formerly asked; and, if they looked at the latest orders to Birmingham, they would find that bridle-bits and nails were excluded from those orders, America having been induced to manufacture these articles herself. This shewed the progress of the arts in America—and so they would continue to progress, if Great Britain continued her policy; from making nails, she would arrive at the manufacture of the most important articles. In short, if they shut America now, they shut it for ever. For these reasons, and on account of all the frightful things passing in the interior of the country, he demanded enquiry.—The accounts from Sheffield, from Manchester, from Leeds, from Huddersfield, were such, that if the House read in the newspapers similar intelligence from Ireland, they would at once conclude that that country was in a state of insurrection and rebellion.—But in England these events did not seem to make the same impression, and because they were new and uncommon, they were not considered to be of the importance they were. Let them do something to soothe the feelings of the country, and not be told, when they pressed for enquiry, that they were using inflammatory language, and not falling into the proper loyal course; let them not be told that their petitions were treasonable, and that they were influenced by persons with whom they had never communicated: that they did not feel their sufferings, but were persuaded by party men to violent acts. And what were these violent acts? Petitioning parliament and the Regent for relief. He hoped, therefore, that the right hon. gentleman would declare, if a Committee was moved for, if he would consent to its appointment. One topic had this night surprised him—he alluded to the licences. He was astonished to learn, that after importing all the manufactures of France, a vessel was only required to export to the value of 5l. per ton of import, instead as he had before understood from the right hon. gentleman (Mr. Rose), of being obliged, in the first instance, to export to that amount, and, on returning, to put her imported cargo under the king's lock, till a cargo of equal value in colonial produce was exported. Mow he saw that a ship might go out in ballast, and that both etiquette and reciprocity were sacrificed. He concluded by expressing his hope and expectation of some relief being granted, and his anxiety for an answer from the right hon. gentleman.

Sir C. Mordaunt

said, that when a motion was made for a Committee, it should have his support.

Mr. Rose

, in explanation, stated, that vessels could not go out in ballast—they must take out to the value of 5l. per ton, and if they imported wine or brandy, they must export an equal value of colonial produce.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, he did not rise to enter into any general discussion on the Orders in Council; but after what had passed, he felt himself called on to make a few observations. The hon. gentleman had stated, that the petitions came from persons who had an opportunity of forming their opinions by experiment, upon the evils resulting front the Orders in Council; now this he apprehended they could not; for the very point upon which he and the hon. gentleman were at issue at the present moment, was, whether those evils proceeded from the Orders in Council, or from other causes? It was true that these person" were competent to state the pressure which was felt in trade, but he knew not how they could decide whether that pressure would have been less if the Orders in Council had never existed: or whether in fact the Berlin and Milan Decrees would have produced the mischief without them. He would say, that not only our difficulties had not increased since the adoption of these Orders, but that the whole trade of the country was in a better state. He was surprised to find the hon. gentleman's knowledge of trade so far overborne by his zeal against the measures of government, as to induce him to say, the Orders in Council were to prevent neutrals from trading with the enemy. He would maintain that the end was to open all trade, even to France itself, if France would trade with Great Britain. France had prohibited trade with Great Britain, and Great Britain had prohibited all trade to France, but what should go through Great Britain. The result was a pressure upon France, such as must compel her to open her ports to the trade of this country. He would state that that very system of licences which was represented to be a departure from the Orders in Council, was a proof of their efficacy and effect.—He agreed that when the question of licenses was before the House, this matter would be better discussed. As to the importation of wine and brandy, the French were obliged to take a considerable quantity of sugar and coffee in return; and with regard to laces, muslins, and other articles of the kind, they would be brought in illegally if there was no allowance granted. He was surprised that so much misinformation should exist with respect to the outrages perpetrated in different parts of "he country; and that they should be ascribed to the Orders in Council, to starvation, and such causes. But was it owing to the Orders, or to starvation, that the mills were broken down? Was such misconduct to be excused, defended, and palliated? Was it fair to hold eat to the House that the destruction of the most valuable property which was daily to be deplored, was to be attribated to the Orders in Council? Was such language consistent with a due regard for the peace and welfare of the country? Was it not as indefinite as it was mischievous? As to the town from which this petition was presented, they bad heard the statement of the hon. baronet, who had told there, that, at the present moment, the want of employment was not severely felt. The hon. gentleman had recommended that the subject should be referred to a select committee, but the House should recollect that this was a case involving a great political question, which it was not the practice of parliament to delegate to any circumscribed committee, but to determine in a committee of the whole House. A detailed examination of evidence did not appear to him to suit a subject of that kind. He knew what an effect the shutting of the American market must have; but would the hon. gentleman state whether they would repeal the Orders in Council, and what they would expect from such a step? There was one time when gentlemen thought that the Berlin and Milan Decrees were done away, but that time was past. No man who knew any thing of the subject would say so now. It was notified by France herself that they should continue to operate, that they should be considered as the fundamental law of the continent, until we abandoned our system of blockade; and until Great Britain conceded the doctrine that free bottoms made free goods. There was no man in that House who lamented the distresses that were felt in the country more than he did, but would any man say he was prepared to give up our maritime rights, by which Great Britain had risen to power and consequence? When this declaration on the part of France, with respect to the continuance of his Decrees, was known in America, he was not without a hope that America would not charge upon this country an unnecessary strictness in the measures to which she had resorted. But whatever the effect in America might be, this country ought to know that those Decrees were in full force now, and were to continue so until Great Britain should yield-up those privileges upon which her prosperity was so strongly founded. The hon. gentleman had asked, him on the subject of the exchequer bills granted as a loan to commercial men, whether he knew that the next instalment due to-morrow would not be paid? He would answer, that he anticipated no such circumstance; so far was he from thinking so, that he was firmly persuaded, the instalment would be faithfully discharged. He had no doubt, indeed, that it would be an accommodation to the gentlemen concerned, to be allowed a further time for the payment, but this, consistently with the public interests, he could not allow. If the Orders in Council were repealed before the Berlin and Milan Decrees, the consequence would be, that France would have her neutral trade open with America, while we were denied the trade of the continent of Europe. Unless the House was prepared to say that this would be judicious, the present did not seem to him to be a period in which it was possible to do away the Orders in Council.

Mr. Brougham

expressed his surprise at the speeches of the Vice President of the Board of Trade, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, at a moment when Petitions signed by so many thousands and tens of thousands were presented to the House. They had treated it as a new question. He remembered, when, two months ago, he had given the right hon. gentleman an opportunity of detailing his sentiments upon this subject, that he was referred to the returns of Mr. Irvine from the Custom-house docks, and told, upon their authority, that there was little or no misery. He hoped the House would not refuse to the people the poor satisfaction of reasoning with them under their sufferings, and enquiring into the causes by which those sufferings were produced. It was not enough to give them a debate as an answer. The hardware manufactories were carried on by about 70,000 persons, not persons brought from the field, but men of skill, who had undergone a regular apprenticeship. If these men were sent to recruit our army, or to till the ground, that force would be irrecoverably disbanded, which was necessary to the working of the manufactories. At present the master manufacturers kept them working a little at the reduced wages of 12s. a-week, instead of from 25s. to 35s. This was not confined to Birmingham; in Leeds and other places they would find thousands out of employment. In Manchester alone, the poor who received relief from the parishes amounted to 25,000 persons, one-fourth of the population. As to the impropriety of allowing a committee on the subject, he would only ask, why might not the Orders in Council go before a select Committee as well as the question relating to the West India interests, in which evidence was gone into as to the evils that would arise from a war with America? That was a precedent which in a matter of such importance as the present, the House was called on to follow. He would tell the right hon. gentleman a remedy for the evils which now existed:—repeal the Orders in Council as far as regarded America, and if that did not satisfy her, it would at least satisfy the people of this country, that every thing had been done consistently with the safety of the realms. Then the House would be met by the affections of the country, not by such symptoms of discontent as had lately burst forth. He conjured the right hon. gentleman not to refuse enquiry to a petitioning nation, when they came to the House with cries and groans. He warned him that he would not be suffered—the nation would not allow him to go to war with America, more than they would suffer Mr. Pitt to do so. The right hon. gentleman might not wish to take this warning, but he was bold enough to predict, that many months would not pass before he would be convinced of the truth of it.

Lord Castlereagh

said, he did not rise to discuss the policy and expediency of the Orders in Council, which would soon come under the consideration of parliament; that it had not come sooner, the hon. gentleman must bear his portion of responsibility. For he deprecated the idea of calling the attention of the House from the true ground of the question, and imputing an inattention in government to the public misfortune. His right hon. friend had not said there was no commercial distress, but by comparing the trade and manufactures of the country with their state in former periods, had shewn that the evil was not so great as it was represented. The cotton manufactory had arisen to such a state of prosperity, as to export to the amount of from 12 to 18 millions in one year. The natural consequence of this was to bear on the other exports. Was it fair to endeavour to give this country a dislike to the war, when the war could not be prevented; and was it not proper, with a view to obviating such a result, to shew that the depression of trade did not exist to such an extent as had been stated? He maintained that our gain by America upon the surrender of the Orders in Council, would be trifling in comparison with our loss of the trade of the continent, which would follow such a step. He believed, that the impressions out of doors were greatly exaggerated. Many parts, he would allow, suffered; but it was chiefly owing to the failure of the harvest, and not to the Orders in Council; and he could never believe that the people of this country were so dead to those maritime rights by which they had been elevated to their present state, as ignorantly to surrender them to the enemy, or even to neutral nations. The Berlin and Milan decrees were the fundamental law of France, not to be departed from, until we should abandon our Orders in Council, and what was called the new blockade, which was the measure of the late Mr. Secretary Fox, adopted in the year 1806. They were to be enforced against us as long as we refused to recognize the system of an armed neutrality. Such was the spirit of her last decree. He denied that there was any disinclination on the part of ministers to discuss the question; they had refused the committee before, thinking it to be unnecessary, but they were prepared to meet the subject on its own grounds. It was not by florid descriptions of distress that the country could be carried through its difficulties. His Majesty's ministers felt these difficulties as much as any one could feel them, but still they would not sacrifice the real interests of the country to any temporary pressure; they acted upon more enlarged views, for the ultimate advantage and prosperity of the empire.

Lord Stanley

observed, that something more was due to the Petitioners than merely to lay their petitions on the table; they ought to be taken into consideration. Under this impression, he should consider it to be his duty to make a motion on the subject. So far from encouraging the violent measures which had been pursued in various parts of the country, he strongly reprobated them; but conceiving that the Petitioners ought to be heard, he gave notice that he should, on Monday, the 27th, submit a motion to the House for that purpose.

Lord Binning

, adverting to what had fallen from an hon. gentleman (Mr. Whitbread) respecting the commercial loan, the payment on the next instalment being due to-morrow, wished to state, as chairman of the committee, that great numbers of the subscribers would have been glad that the day of payment was further postponed; but they were ready nevertheless.

Mr. Whitbread

, in explanation, observed, he had merely stated, that the right hon. gentleman had refused to give the extension to the subscribers. But whether there was more or less of distress he did not know.

Mr. Lyttelton

wished to correct a wrong impression which might have been made by some statements in the Petition. He much doubled whether all the manufacturers were employed He knew that previous to the meeting a kind of census had been taken of the number of manufacturers, and on the average nearly one-half were out of employ. It appeared also, that in some of the great manufactories only one-third were then employed; but in no instances were more than two-thirds employed.—With respect to parochial relief, there was no place in England where the poor were better off than in Birmingham. There were many friendly societies and clubs; from these they received consider-able benefits. He understood, however, that in the course of a few months there would be out of employ 70,000 manufacturers. He was aware that those who stated facts of this nature might be taxed with having inflammatory designs—with want of patriotism but the statement was true.

General Tarleton

attributed the distress in trade to the Orders in Council; the highest and the lowest, the richest and the poorest, were equally aggrieved by them. He condemned the manner in which the Petitions had been received, as turning a deaf ear to the complaints from all parts of the country. He had expressed his feelings in respect to the riots at Nottingham, and called for enquiry; but his call was disregarded, and what was the consequence? The spreading of those riots into other counties. Convinced of the necessity of enquiry, he should support the motion of his noble friend (lord Stanley) whenever it might be brought forward.

Mr. Marrryatt

thought that attempts had been made to inflame the minds of the manufacturers against his Majesty's ministers by circulating a report that the licences were issued only for the purpose of increasing the fortunes of a few private individuals.

The Petition was then ordered to lie on the table.