HC Deb 20 April 1812 vol 22 cc463-75

A Petition of several inhabitants of the borough of Preston, in the county of Lancaster, was presented and read: setting forth,

"That the Petitioners, having observed that an application ha" been made to parliament, on behalf of the East India Company, for a renewal of their Charter, they feel it to be due to themselves, and the country at large, respectfully to submit to the House their sentiments on the subject; and that the Petitioners are humbly of opinion, that the monopoly of the trade to the East Indies, by an incorporated Company, with exclusive privileges, to Ute prejudice of private British merchants and traders, is impolitic and unjust in its principle, and has been practically detrimental to the interests of the nation at large; and that a considerable proportion of the Petitioners are engaged in trade and manufacture, and consequently feel the effects of the existing restraints upon commerce; and they are not induced, by those restraints only, to call the attention of the House to the subject of the monopoly in question; in common with the rest of their fellow subjects, the Petitioners submit, with patience, to such restrictions as necessarily arise from the actual stale of Europe, and wish not to purchase an open trade by dishonourable concessions to an enemy, or to any foreign country whatever, feeling, as they do, a perfect confidence that those restrictions will be removed as early as possible, consistently with the honour and safety of the British empire; but they are sincerely convinced, upon grounds of general policy and actual experience, that the Charter of the East India Company ought not to be renewed, and that the commerce of those extensive territories, in which that Company has now the exclusive right of trading, ought to be free and open to all his Majesty's subjects; and that the extinction of this monopoly appears to the Petitioners to be equally desirable, with a view to the interests of all classes of society, excepting only those persons who are connected with the East India Company, experience having shown, that in this commercial country, the value of property of every description is considerably influenced by the existing state of trade and manufactures; and that, as the Petitioners see no national ground for prohibiting the open commerce of British subjects in general with any country of the East, so neither are they aware of any such ground for limiting the exports or imports to any particular port in the United Kingdom; and they trust in the wisdom and firmness of parliament for the exclusion of all partial considerations on any of these points; and praying, that the House will take these matters into their serious consideration, and not permit any Bill to pass which shall have the effect of excluding private British merchants and traders from a free and open commerce with any of those countries in which the present Charter of the East India Company enables them to monopolize the trade, or which shall limit the exports or imports to or from the East to any particular port or ports in Great Britain; and that no restrictions whatever may be imposed in any of these respects, but such as shall unequivocally appear to the House to be clearly and absolutely necessary upon public and national grounds of expediency."

A Petition of the provost bailies and councillors of the royal borough of Dumfries, in Scotland, for themselves and as representing the burgesses and community of the said borough, was also presented and read: setting forth,

"That, by various charters granted at different æras, sanctioned by the parliament of Great Britain, extensive powers and privileges have been conferred upon a society of merchants, denominated Merchants trading to the East Indies; and as all the liege subjects of his Majesty have been restricted and prohibited, under severe pains and penalties, from exercising the extension of commerce in those parts of the world situated to the Eastward of the Cape of Good Hope, that Company has solely monopolized the whole trade and commerce in those distant and extensive regions, to the exclusion of the other subjects of Great Britain, although the Petitioners have reason to believe that the flags of other nations in amity with Great Britain, have been permitted by our government to exercise such an extensive freedom of commerce; and that the Petitioners farther understand, that means are now using by the East India Company for a renewal of their unlimited Charter, Which is "aid to expire in or about the month of March, 1814 but, as the Petitioners conceive such renewal would be nothing more than a continuance of degradation to the commercial spirit of the nation, they have now met in common council, and, after mature deliberation, have resolved humbly and constitutionally to solicit and petition the House, either to refuse entirely a renewal of the Charter to the East India Company, or to grant it under such provisions and limitations as will permit the subjects of this kingdom to extend its commerce, without being subjected to the pains and penalties hitherto imposed in favour of the Company, or at least to put them on the same commercial footing as the subjects of other states not at variance with the interests of Great Britain; and praying the House to adopt such measures, either in the granting under limitations or entirely refusing a renewal of the Charier to the East India Company, so as that British subjects may have such a participation of the trade and commerce of those parts of India as may be consistent with the honour justice and commercial interests of this great nation."

A Petition of several merchants, traders and other inhabitants of the city of Bristol, was also presented and read; set-ting forth,

"That the Petitioners, in contemplation of an intended application to the legislature by the East India Company, for a renewal of their exclusive privilege of trade, and confident in the justice and wisdom of the House, the natural and powerful guardians of the people's rights, deem it their indispensable duty thus early to represent to the House, that the full and free right to trade to and with all countries and people in amity with their sovereign, and more particularly with those countries and settlements acquired and maintained by the efforts and valour of the forces of his Majesty, is the undoubted birthright and inheritance of the people of this empire; and that the exclusive privilege of the East India Company is a manifest infringement of that right, from which many and great evils have resulted; and that the Petitioners further humbly submit to the House, as a sound and incontrovertible principle, that, in this enlightened age, commerce can neither be benefited nor extended by monopoly; and that all ideas of direct participation by the public treasury, in behalf of the nation, in the profits of trade, as a compensation or purchase for such monopolized commerce, must and ever will be vain and illusory; and the petitioners humbly adduce the disappointed expectations of the nation and the legislature, in regard to the East India Company, in complete illustration of this principle; and they refer to the information before the House, to shew that the trade carried on by the East India Company has decreased at the very time when, by British exertions, its field has been extended, and itself protected from enemies and hostile rivalry; and that foreigners, by the advantages of free and unfettered exertions, have been at the same time successfully competing with the East India Company, not only in the trade of the Company's own settlements, but also in the trade to China, to a vast amount, whilst such trades have I been long and obstinately denied to the subjects of the United Kingdom; and that the petitioners further humbly shew to the House, that the prospect of pecuniary participation held out to the country in 1793, not only has not been realized, but has been converted into repeated claims by the East India Company on the public purse and credit; and that further and still greater pecuniary assistance is now required, to avert embarrassments in which: the East India Company must otherwise soon be involved; and that the Petitioners rely, with the utmost confidence, that the House will diregard any arguments that may be adduced in favour of the East India Company's exclusive privilege, which would, if admitted, apply with equal force against the freedom of any and of every branch of British commerce, the whole of which might thus be paralized by monopoly (as this great arm of our strength has been) to the ruin of our naval greatness and the consequent downfall of our independence; and that the Petitioners beg leave humbly to submit to the House, that of all the effects of monopoly none is so injurious as its confinement of commerce to a particular port; and that the principal out-ports of the United Kingdom have an undoubted right to equal privilege of trade with the port of London, bearing, as they do cheerfully, their full and common proportion of the burthens of the state, and the privations which the unexampled state of Europe has brought upon the trading and manufacturing classes of the community; and that trade, when confined to a single port of a great empire, must of necessity, from being cramped and narrowed, languish and decline; and that great and expensive improvements have of late years been made in most of the principal out-ports, with a view to the extension of commerce and to the accommodation of a larger class of ships; and that the known loyalty, integrity, and opulence of the merchants resident in the out-ports, afford ample security for their care of the vital interests of their country, in respect of its national revenue, which the Petitioners, with deference, assert, is as diligently and faithfully collected, and as cheerfully paid, in those out-ports, as in the port of London; and that the Petitioners, however far from having a wish to deprive the East India Company of any right or claim they may have on the justice or liberality of parliament for indemnification, are most anxious that all such claims may be fairly examined, and fully and liberally remunerated; but further humbly submit to the House, that the means of such remuneration should arise from a fair and equal impost on the trade in question, and should not be attempted by restrictions, which can only serve to shackle and injure commerce, and to harass and perplex the merchant, without any solid benefit to the East India Company; and praying that the House will refuse to comply with any application that may be made by the East India Company for a renewal of their exclusive privilege, and will leave the trade to India and China fully and freely open to the enterprize, skill, and capital of the merchants of the United Kingdom, subject only to such salutary laws for its regulation and protection as the legislature, in its wisdom and paternal care, may deem necessary; and that the Petitioners may be allowed to be heard, by themselves, their counsel and agents, at the bar of the House, in support of the objects of their Petition."

A Petition of the master wardens and commonalty of merchant venturers of the city of Bristol, was also presented and read; setting forth,

"That the Petitioners observe, with the deepest concern, that the East India Company have petitioned the House for a renewal of their Charter, which will expire in the year 1814, upon the principle, either in whole or in part, of their retaining exclusive possession of the trade to the vast regions contained between the Cape of Good Hope and the Straits of Magellan; and the Petitioners humbly represent, that the right to a full and free participation of trade and commerce to all parts and places possessed by, or in amity with, the United Kingdom, belongs in common to all persons and every port within these realms; and that, to restrict the exports or imports to and from so large a portion of the habitable globe as the territories of India singly to the port of London, is not only a manifest breach of this general right, but moreover must cramp and confine the trade itself, discourage the industry of his Majesty's subjects, and keep down the amount of the national revenue; and that the energy, spirit and enterprize of British merchants, when unfettered, will not only tend to enlarge the present means of diffusing British articles throughout India, the islands and the vast dominions of China, but probably lead to the discovery of new channels and hitherto unexplored regions of commerce, which are objects of essential importance to the country at this time, when the greatest part of the continent of Europe is barred against British merchants and British manufactures; and that, subsequently to the act of 1793, namely, in 1797, it was deemed expedient to grant to the United States of America, and to such nations of Europe as were in amity with his Majesty, complete freedom of trade to the whole of the East India Company's settlements, from which, and from her intercourse with China, America has not only supplied her own wants, but it is a notorious fact that, from the same source, the British West India colonies have been inundated, and the Mediterranean, and other parts of Europe, have been partially supplied with East India and Chinese products and manufactures; and that the fears which the East India Company express, that a free, open, and unrestrained intercourse between British merchants and the subjects of China, may lead to quarrels, and ultimately to the total stoppage of that branch of commerce, are proved to be groundless, by the experience of a long course of years, during which the subjects of the united States of America have enjoyed free intercourse with China without any such consequence having resulted therefrom; and that the port and harbour of Bristol has, at a vast expence, been rendered capable of receiving and keeping afloat ships of very considerable burthen; and the Petitioners think themselves warranted in asserting that the duties of customs and excise are as well secured, and as freely and faithfully paid and collected in that port as they can possibly be in the port of London; and praying, that the House will not consent to renew to the East India Company any of those exclusive commercial privileges which are contained in the 33d of his Majesty, c. 52; but that, from the expiration of that act, the trade to all parts of the East Indies, the Eastern Archipelago, and China, may be as freely and fully open to all persons and ports of the United Kingdom as it at present is exclusively to the E. I. Company, and solely to the port of London,"

A Petition of the Directors of the Bristol Dock Company, for and on behalf of the said Company, was also presented and read; setting forth,

"That the petitioners, under the authority of an act passed in the 43d year of his present Majesty, bay" constructed works of great magnitude and expence whereby the port of Bristol is converted into a floating harbour; and many great inconveniences, to which the trade and shipping were before subject, are now effectually remedied; and that looking for ward to the period when the East India trade should be thrown open to the exertions and industry of all his Majesty's subjects, the Petitioners formed their locks upon a scale calculated for the admission of vessels employed in such trade, and of much larger size than was necessary for the shipping usually frequenting the port; and that, in the completion of a work of so large an extent, the petitioners laid out a sum not less than 600,000l. for which vast expenditure they had no hopes or prospect of ever receiving an adequate return, except from the increase of the trade expected to result from the improvement; and that their expectations in that respect have been hithero entirely disappointed, owing principally to the unexampled state of affairs on the continent of Europe, whereby some branches of trade heretofore enjoyed by the port of Bristol have been lost, and others materially lessened; and in consequence thereof, the duties made payable by parliament to the petitioners, as a remuneration for their advances, have fallen far short of the intent of the legislature, and are not at this time equal to pay a dividend of two and an half per centum on the total expenditure; and that, in the present general and alarming depression of trade throughout the kingdom, it is peculiarly fortunate for the country that the approaching termination of the East India Company's Charter will afford a resource of a most extensive and ample nature, and perfectly independent of the power or controul of the common enemy, by enabling parliament to throve open to the individual exertions of all his Majesty's subjects a trade hitherto confined to the exclusive enjoyment of a single company; and praying, that the House will refuse to sanction any Bill for the renewal of the East India Company's Charter, and thereby afford to the petitioners and to the country at large that relief which the peculiar circumstances of the times seem imperiously to require."

A Petition of several manufacturers and other inhabitants of the town and neighbourhood of Bilston, in the county of Stafford, was also presented and read; setting forth.

"That in consequence of the system which prevails upon nearly the whole of the continent of Europe of excluding British produce, and of the unfortunate mis-understanding with the united States of America, which has caused their ports to be closed, the trade and manufactures of the petitioners hare undergone a very severe and unprecedented depression; and that when the petitioners observe the inflexible perseverance with which the French ruler pursues his plan of annoying, and, if possible, annihilating the commerce of this country, and likewise the overwhelming influence he has obtained in almost every part of Europe, they cannot but regard as hopeless any prospect of re-admission to the continental markets; and that the petitioners are decidedly averse to any tame and ignominious submission to the enemy by which the honour of the nation might be sullied and its interests compromised, but they feel it a duty to express their full conviction, that unless some modes of commercial relief be adopted, the welfare and independence of the empire will be materially endangered; and it appears to the petitioners that the East Indies would afford an extent of country and population fully equal to the consumption of all the British manufactures that are at present shut out of their usual markets; therefore they cannot but lament the existence of a monopoly which excludes the subjects of this country from their just and natural rights, and which, in common with all other commercial monopolies, is totally inconsistent with the principles of sound justice and policy; and that moreover the petitioners humbly state their firm opinion, that the advantages arising to the East India Company from their exclusive commercial privileges are very trifling, if any; that the mercantile interests of the kingdom at large are thereby exposed to severe and mischievous privations, that at the same time other nations are suffered to engross the benefits of the Eastern trade, and that consequently the abolition of the East India monopoly would be a most desireable measure; and that the petitioners therefore most earnestly implore the House to take into immediate consideration the present distressed state of the trade and manufactures of the country, and to adopt such measures as will be most conducive to their relief, by opening the Eastern markets to the spirit, enterprize, and ingenuity of the empire at large."

A Petition of the dock company st Kingston-upon-Hull, was also presented and read; setting forth,

" That, in the 14th year of his present Majesty, an act passed for making a dock, and building a public quay, or wharf, at-Kingston-upon-Hull, and for the better securing his Majesty's revenues of customs; and that, soon after the passing of the said act, the petitioners, at great expence, made an extensive dock for the accommodation of shipping, and built a commodious quay, or wharf, along the side thereof accordingly; and that, in pursuance of an act passed in the 42d year of his present Majesty, the petitioners also lately, at an expence of upwards of 220,000l. made another dock at the said port, with an entrance into the same, capable of admitting his Majesty's ships of war of 50 guns, together with other extensive quays and wharfs contiguous thereto; and that, by the terms of the last-mentioned act, the petitioners are required to make another dock, and to provide further accommodation for the trade of the said port, whenever a specified increase of tonnage of the shipping resorting to the same may take place and that, in addition to the works above enumerated, the petitioners have erected-several substantial and convenient warehouses immediately contiguous to the said legal quay, for the reception of goods, wares, and merchandizes imported into, and intended for exportation, from the said port; and that the circumstance of the port of Hull being situate on the river Humber, and communicating, by navigable rivers and canals, with the manufacturing counties of York, Lancaster, Nottingham, Derby, Leicester, and Stafford, and with most other parts of the kingdom, would enable the merchants and ship owners of Hull to participate, with peculiar advantage to themselves, and with perfect safety to the revenue in the trade to the East Indies; and praying, that the House will be pleased to adopt such measures as they may deem expedient, to obtain to the port of Hull a participation in the trade to the East Indies, and particularly to the empire of China, on the expiration of the East India Company's Charter.

A Petition of the guild or brotherhood of masters and pilots, seamen of the Trinity-house of Kingston-upon-Hull, was also presented and read; setting forth "That, however necessary the monopoly of the East India Company might have been at the time it was originally granted, by which that Company became possessed of the whole trade of India, China, and other countries comprehended in their Charter, it is now become inexpedient, as a measure of general national policy, is unjust and extremely prejudicial to the interests of all other British merchants and ship owners; and that, in case the trade to the British dominions in India, and to the countries eastward of the Cape of Good Hope, were opened to all the subjects of Great Britain, immense advantages and wealth would be derived therefrom, the advantages of which are at pre" sent actually enjoyed by all other flags except the British; and that, as every port of this United Kingdom is equally entitled to the advantages of foreign trade, any regulations which would, in future, confine the trade of the East to the port of London, would be unjust, and contrary to those wise principles of sound policy by which this nation is governed, and a violation of the just rights of every other sea port in the kingdom; and that the petitioners are fully persuaded, that the expiration of the charter of the East India Company, in 1814, affords a promising and most fortunate opportunity of granting to the subjects of this country a relief which government has not had in its power, for many years, and which, if lost, will be attended with incalculable disappointment to the fair hopes and expectations of the country; and praying, that the House will be pleased to adopt such measures, as in their wisdom shall seem meet, in opening this most important branch of commerce to all the subjects of the nation, upon the expiration of the present existing Charter of the East India Company."

A Petition of the merchants ship owners and other inhabitants of Kingston-upon-Hull, was also presented and read; setting forth.

"That the approaching expiration of the East India Company's Charier having occupied the attention of the House, the petitioners beg leave respectfully to state their hopes and wishes on that important subject; and that the petitioners are fully persuaded, that if the trade to the British dominions in India, and to the immense and populous countries included in the Charter, were laid open to the skill, industry, and capital of private merchants, it would be conducted with a degree of energy and economy which a large public body is incapable of exercising, new channels of commerce would be discovered, the consumption of our manufactures extended, and our shipping increased, to the advantage of the parties concerned, and the permanent augmentation of the wealth, power, and resources of the British empire; and that the extensive and flourishing commerce of the United States of America with India and the Chinese empire, exhibits a proof, that these expectations of advantage from the exertions of private individuals are not unfounded; and they beg leave respectfully to represent, that any partial modification of the trade would, in their opinion, fall extremely short of those advantages which would accrue from the total abolition of the existing monopoly; and they do, therefore, humbly and earnestly deprecate any continuation of the Company's exclusive privilege to the commerce with China: they conceive that the British character forbids the injurious suspicion that their intercourse with the Chinese would be disturbed by a conduct deficient in discretion or propriety, whilst the Americans, and other nations, have maintained a similar intercourse without interruption: they also think, that no greater necessity for monopoly exists with a view to secure the duties on tea, than those on sugar, rum, or any other highly-taxed article of importation; and the petitioners hope and trust that no reason can be found, either in justice or in policy, for the exclusion of the out ports from the benefit of the trade with India, and situate as the town of Hull is, on a great estuary, the Humber communicating by inland navigation with the principal manufacturing districts, and with a large portion of the kingdom, they entertain no doubt that the facilities these circumstances present would enable the petitioners to engage in it with advantage to themselves and to their country; and the petitioners further humbly request, that the House will not impose any restraint on the British merchant respecting the burthen of any vessel to be employed in the trade, but leave the choice to his own judgment and discretion; and that the commercial distresses which the petitioners have, in common with the rest of the kingdom, experienced from the enormous power and influence of the enemy on the continent of Europe, furnish abundant reasons for applying to the House, with earnestness and with confidence, for the purpose of opening new channels of intercourse with those distant regions, where the success of his Majesty's arms, by sea and by land, has established British dominion on a permanent basis, and has secured British commerce against all danger of hostile interference; and praying the House to adopt such measures as to their wisdom shall seem meet, for granting to all his Majesty's subjects, from and after the expiration of the East India Company's Charter, a free trade to and from India and its dependencies, and to and from the empire of China."

And the said Petitions were ordered to lie upon the table.