HC Deb 01 December 1812 vol 24 cc120-33

On the question that the Report of the Address, in answer to the Prince Regent's Speech on opening the session, be brought up,

Mr. Creevey

rose and observed, that more time ought to be allowed for the consideration of the many important topics touched on in the Prince Regent's Speech, and especially the three wars in which we were engaged, the policy of which he was not yet prepared to approve. The Speech contained an omission, which was also, in his view of the subject, very important. The Prince Regent had expressed his reliance, that the House of Commons would furnish the supplies, but without at all adverting to the perilous state of our finances and commerce. That this was an unusual and ill-advised proceeding, he referred to some former Addresses to prove. Did the ministers know nothing of the state of the finances, had they withheld all know ledge of our commercial distresses from the Prince Regent, or did they deny the existence of such distresses? The House, he thought, would be better employed in inquiring into the financial state of the country than in voting the proposed Address; for it had been acknowledged by the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and by a right hon. gentleman of great financial knowledge, who unfortunately was not now a member of the House,' (Mr. Tierney), that the present system could not be persevered in, and as a remedy the Chancellor of the Exchequer's nostrum was, a tax on capital!—How, in the present state of things, could they think of pledging themselves to the support of the war in the peninsula, on its present scale? What he knew was, that our expences last year were 121 millions; that notwithstanding the resolutions of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which declared the paper money to be equal in value to gold, the public annuitants had been robbed of one third of their incomes, and that, not for the benefit of the public, but for the benefit of the Bank Company; and then the effect of this system must be, the annihilation of all stock-holders. These were his reasons for opposing the present Address.—The hon. member, after hating adverted to the parliamentary farce attending the opening of parliament—two well-dressed gentlemen coming down to the House with speeches in their pockets; well-written essays or themes proposed by ministers—concluded by moving as an amendment, that the Report be brought up this day s'ennight.

Mr. Fremantle

further impressed upon the House the necessity of inquiring into the present state of the public expenditure, before the Report at the bar was agreed to. As to the general subject of the royal Speech, he was decidedly of opinion, that our prospects at the present moment were not nearly so bright as at the commencement of the last session of parliament. The war in which we had injudiciously plunged ourselves with America, was in no degree counterbalanced by the peace that had been concluded with Russia. With regard to the peninsula, he was persuaded that, by the battle of Salamanca we had gained nothing but glory, and that the freedom of Spain was no nearer in its ac complishment than when the marquis of Wellington was posted at Torres Vedras. At the same time that he disapproved of the Address, he acknowledged that he could not vote for the Amendment that had been last night offered to supersede it, and which recommended propositions for peace to the Prince Regent. He thought such a proposition coming from the House, would inevitably defeat its own object, and lower the country in the eyes of the enemy.

Mr. Robinson

was surprised that the hon. gentleman who had just sat down, could have advanced that the late campaign in the peninsula had left our affairs in that quarter in a worse situation. This gross error, into which many other honourable gentlemen had fallen, arose from their considering the campaign as beginning at the battle of Salamanca, whereas, in fact, it had begun at the taking of Ciudad Rodrigo; and this was the only fair point of view in which it could be considered. The hon. gentleman the followed the operations of lord Wellington, from the taking of that town. It was true, he had been compelled to retire from before Burgos, and to evacuate Madrid, but it was absurd to expect constant success in war; and he was sorry to observe, that on all occasions, we were too prone to be exalted or depressed beyond measure, by success, or partial failures. The fact was, that the campaign so much blamed, had driven the French from a great part of the western provinces of Spain, had forced them to evacuate the south, and to raise the siege of Cadiz, the capture of which they considered as of such importance in a military point of view, that they sat two years and a half before that place, regardless of every other advantage they might have obtained by concentrating their troops.—As to America, he would venture to assert, that, as in the first instance no means were neglected of preserving peace, so it would appear that no exertions had been wanting to prosecute the war when it was found inevitable.

Mr. Rose

said, he wished to correct a mistake of the hon. gentleman who had moved the amendment—a mistake which had occasioned much misconception out of doors. His right hon. friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, had never proposed a tax on capital, and from all the attention which he himself had given to the subject, he was convinced, that such a tax was altogether impracticable. A right reverend prelate (the bishop of Llandaff) had indeed written a pamphlet on the subject some years ago, but still, after the most mature consideration, he remained satisfied of the impossibility and impracticability of such a tax.

Mr. Stuart Wortley

deprecated the idea of making the miseries of the people the grounds of suing for peace, as it would debase the nation, raise the demands of the enemy, and abandon all the fruits of the struggle in which so much money and so much treasure had been lavished. Having said thus much, he trusted, on the other hand, that ministers would pay due regard to the, real sufferings of the people, and not let any opportunity escape by which they might procure a peace consistent with the honour, safety, and interests of the country.

Lord Milton

earnestly called upon the House to reflect upon the ruinous tendency of prosecuting the war with America. He believed that the two governments were decidedly hostile, while the two nations were as decidedly pacific. He lamented to see the person at the head of the government guided so implicitly by his enmity to the United States. This might be a bold assertion, but he was not afraid to declare what he sincerely thought.

Mr. Stephen

warmly resisted the statement of the noble lord, that there was any irritation in the illustrious person at the head of the government towards the Amecan people. The Speech delivered only yesterday contradicted the assertion, for it breathed only a spirit of amity and conciliation.

Lord Milton

explained, that he had been misunderstood; he had no such allusion as the hon. and learned gentleman had imputed to him.

Mr. Stephen

resumed; he was satisfied that he had been mistaken, and that the noble lord did not mean what he had erroneously attributed to him. He would not enter into minute points, but he would assert in opposition to the noble lord, that an equal spirit of irritation did not prevail in the two governments; on the contrary, a friendly disposition had ever been displayed by the government of Great Britain. The statement of our wrongs was not intended to irritate, but to conciliate by conviction. For his own part, however much he might be interested in the discussion of the question of America, he entertained no personal feeling of irritation, but the Orders in Council he had defended with his tongue and his pen—and he could appeal to authorities across the Atlantic, for testimonies of his moderate and respectful language towards the government of America. Had the noble lord forgotten the language used to Mr. Erskine, when he, bearing concessions to them, was received with taunts, instead of the terms of amity and conciliation? Had he forgotten the treatment of Mr. Jackson, who was driven from the country without being permitted to wait for the instructions of his government? The noble lord must have a short memory, if he did not recollect that the government of America had declared, that they expected the treaty of Utrecht should be considered the maritime law of nations—a law that would render the navy of England useless, except to guard her own coast. When, by a fatal event, it became probable that the Orders in Council would be rescinded, did not America abandon that ground of complaint, and immediately demand an abandonment of our system of blockade, and a renunciation of the right of search. Could the noble lord find any way to negociate with America without abandoning our rights; or was he prepared to say that we ought to abandon them? With regard to the concessions made to America by ministers, it was a point on which he differed from them.—The hon. and learned gentleman then entered into a detailed discussion of the Orders in Council and our blockade system, and observed, that to exaggerated statements of civil war and revolution among our manufacturers, might be attributed the concessions to America—and, to those concessions, the present war. A heavy responsibility attached to the real authors of this unnatural war between two countries united in origin, in language; and in manners, and who were, besides, the only countries in the world where civil liberty existed: but he saw no prospect of any peace consistent even with our existence, since the measure of American demands was determined by the unjust and unlimited aggressions of France.

Mr. Wilberforce

deprecated any intention on the part of the House to call on the ministers to pledge themselves to seek peace, as such conduct would defeat the object it professed to have in view. It would perhaps create a popular cry in the country for peace, and raise the demand of those with whom we should have to negociate. He did not doubt that the ministers participated in the wishes of the people, as they regarded peace; there appeared no disinclination on the part of government to negociate, and as our prospects on the continent were now somewhat better than heretofore, he hoped those prospects would not be blasted by any premature solicitations on the part of the House. He knew of but one instance of a petition to the king to make peace, being carried in that House, and in that instance it had been productive of more evil than good.

Mr. Ponsonby,

although he generally coincided with his hon. friend who was the mover of the present amendment, yet differed from him on this occasion. By receiving the report, the House by no means adopted the opinions contained in the Address; it was, therefore, unnecessary to postpone its consideration: the Address was a natural consequence of the Speech, and resembled a mere common place letter, in. which were a great number of words of course, ending with "I have the honour to be, Sir, with the highest respect, your devoted humble servant," when, in fact, the writer felt none of that respect and devotion of which he talked. To debate the Address, paragraph by paragraph, would take up the whole of the session. Many of the topics treated of in the Address, would require mature deliberation; and as to the Spanish war, he thought it would be best discussed when the Chancellor of the Exchequer should come to the House for supplies.

Lord Castlereagh

agreed entirely with the last speaker, but wished to correct a statement made by an hon. and learned gentleman, that the government of this country had at any period conceded the fight of the Americans to insist on the repeal of the Orders in Council.

Mr. Whitbread

wished to say a few words in reply to what had fallen from the hon. and learned member opposite, and also from the late member for Yorkshire, who had honoured him with the appellation of friend. The hon. and learned gentleman opposite had informed them, hat a day would be appointed for considering the American question; and as the hon. and learned gentleman had returned to that House unchanged, he would venture to predict that it would not be a short day. The hon. and learned gentleman had told them, that he had employed his pen and tongue in support of the Orders in Council: his pen he had employed before he entered parliament, and no doubt that pen had gained him his seat; and that he had used his tongue subsequently to his being in parliament, the House could abundantly testify. It appeared singular, however, that the hon. and learned gentleman, who spoke on every subject, should have been silent the day that his darling offspring, the Orders in Council, breathed their last; but so it was. He had heard that the marquis of Wellington had once been employed to prevent a certain right hon. doctor (Duigenan) from speaking; and as he had observed a noble lord Seated by the hon. and learned gentleman during the debate to which he alluded, he had no doubt that his employment was precisely similar to that of the noble marquis. He had been very anxious to hear the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer; but as often as he had attempted to rise, he had been prevented, first by one, then by another; at length up started the late Treasurer of the Navy, (Mr. Rose) whom he might denominate the patriarch of the Treasury Bench, and who chose to disclaim all idea of a tax on capital, which he threw upon a right reverend bishop, many hundred miles off. If it really was the natural child of the right reverend prelate, he thought it very hard to throw it at his door, under such circumstances.—The hon. gentleman then proceeded to detail the occurrences of his political life, and repelled the attack made on him by Mr. Stephen, whom he designated as the author and supporter of the Orders in Council—he who eulogised them while living, and lamented them when dead.—He stated, in reply to Mr. Wilberforce, that the petition for peace carried in that House, was at the close of the American war, when the distressed manufacturers burst the doors of the House, and by a recital of their distresses obtained the petition. Mr. Burke was then the eloquent but unsuccessful advocate of peace—deaf was the parliament!—deaf were the ministers!—deaf was the prince!—that war, so obstinately persevered in, ended in the independence of America, and its consequences were now visiting us. He denied that he was (as he had been characterised) a man who wished to drag his country to the feet of France, and asserted, that he had ever acted on principle, and during the whole course of the war had been the consistent advocate of peace. The hon. gentleman next adverted to the Amendment which he had proposed on the preceding evening, and which, he contended, had been misunderstood; as it did not call on the Prince Regent to enter into an immediate negotiation for peace; but to cause an enquiry to be made as to the feelings of the enemy on that point. He then stated, in allusion to what fell from Mr. Ponsonby on the preceding evening, the various occasions on which the subject of negociations with France had been before the House, and the conduct he had pursued. Although he had delivered his opinion on those occasions, he never had, before last night, submitted any specific proposition on the question. But now, when he saw an opportunity occur most favourable for this country, and when he saw no manifestation in the speech from the throne, of a desire to seize that opportunity, he conceived it right that parliament should interfere. They must all recollect, that the speeches from the throne during the last 20 years, contained, in general, a passage, expressive of a desire to conclude a peace with France, and with all the world, if it could be procured on terms commensurate with the safety and dignity of the country. But now there was a total silence on that point; and he wished to prevent that bare and naked exposition of the state of the country,—he wished to prevent those distresses which the war had, and must continue to produce,—being blazoned throughout Europe; he wished to save the country from being placed in a similar situation to that in which she had been plunged by the repeal of the Orders in Council, when it was too late—and this could only be effected by a timely pacification. No man was more ready than himself to endure privations for the public good; no man would feel more repugnance in endeavouring to prevent the people from making any sacrifice which tended to uphold the honour of the country; but when he saw the government placed in hands which his right hon. friend (Mr. Ponsonby) was not himself disposed to support—when he saw a government possessing power, but without confidence—when he saw the infatuation which prevailed in the country, from the period of Mr. Fox's motion, in 1793, for opening a negociation with France, down to the present hour,—he thought he acted correctly in endeavouring to check the evil. He wished the Prince Regent to be informed of the true state of the country, before fresh exactions were placed on the people, that measures might be devised to prevent their necessity. Many opportunities would occur for the consideration of the Spanish question. He agreed with the hon. gentleman (Mr. Robinson) as to the improved situation of our army on the peninsula now, compared with what it was at the end of the last campaign. But, when he spoke of the importance of raising the siege of Cadiz, and of the retreat of Caffarelli, a question arose, which every Englishman was anxious to ask; "What has Spain done?" To answer this, circumstances must be noticed, which one would fain forget. Let us look to lord Wellington's gazetted account of the battle of Salamanca. We there find units, tens, hundreds, and thousands of slain and wounded, on each side; while the Spanish loss is reduced to six! He should be glad to have this circumstance properly explained. Lord Wellington had spoken of the Guerillas as being very active; and, he believed, that was all that could be said. As partisans, they might do mischief to the enemy, and he was afraid they also annoyed the population themselves; but to look to them for any great effort, if the English army were removed, was to encourage a vain imagination, in which there was no hope. Buonaparté was at present in a perilous situation, and every exertion ought to be made, by taking advantage of it, to procure a peace. But a feeling seemed to pervade the minds of certain persons, that a peace should not be concluded with that man—a feeling which he wished to eradicate from this country; for, in the probable course of events, we should be obliged to make peace with him. Let him, then, be sent to, openly and manfully; the fate of the mission would be speedily known; and the issue would be, a conviction on the minds of every one, whether a permanent and honourable peace could be procured or not.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

wished to make a few observations on what had fallen from some of the preceding speakers. An hon. gentleman had alluded to the expenditure of 1809. In that year, the bills drawn from the peninsula on this country amounted to 2,800,000l. In the present year they amounted to 11,500,000l. So much for the comparative expenditure of the war during these two years; and so much in answer to those who imagined that government had not made the most strenuous exertions in support of the war in the peninsula. In answer to the assertion of an hon. gentleman (Mr. Creevey) who said he had read all the king's speeches to parliament, and that in all of them mention was made of the commerce and revenue of the country, he would mention that in the years 1809 and 1807, no reference whatever was made to the state of the revenue or commerce. With respect to the allusions to a tax on capital, which he was said to have announced, he begged leave to recommend to the attention of the hon. gentleman who charged him with this, the treatise of Dean Swift on Political Lying. He never declared that a tax on capital was to be proposed. All that he said was, that such a measure had been resorted to in other countries; in Holland, Switzerland and Hamburgh for example, and that he believed it might be practicable in this country; but he stated, that he was far from thinking that we had arrived at such an emergency as made this scheme necessary here. An hon. gentleman (Mr. Whitbread) had thought proper to say, that we were beaten at sea by the Americans, because one ship of inferior force had been taken by another of superior; and a right hon. gentleman (Mr. Canning) had stated that our commerce had been swept from the ocean by the Americans. With respect to our commerce, he had to state, that till the accounts from all the out-ports could be obtained, which was impossible till the end of the year, a correct estimate could not be formed of it. However, to judge from the port of London, where a great proportion of the trade of the country was carried on, the inference would be highly favourable. In the first ten months of last year, the exports from the port of London, in official value, amounted to eight millions and a half, and in the first ten months of the present year, they exceeded thirteen millions, a greater sum than for the same period of any former year, except 1809, which was the greatest ever known. No doubt the interruption of the American trade was severely felt in many parts of the country; but it would be matter of great triumph to Mr. Gallatin, if at the commencement of Congress he could give such an account of the commerce of America. In the amount of the revenue of last year, there was only a deficiency of 90,000l. a very small sum indeed in a total of sixty millions.

Mr. W. Smith

said, the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer had stated, as a matter of triumph, that 11,500,000l. had been expended in the peninsular war, in the last eleven months, while in 1809, only 2,800,000l. had been expended for the same purpose. He, however, must observe, that the depreciation of currency was not quite so great in 1809 as in 1812; and he believed the quantity of gold and silver exported in the latter year, would account for a considerable portion of the increased sum. The same remark, he believed, might be made with respect to the deficiency of the revenue. As they went on, they would find that 60 millions this year, would not be equal to 00 millions in the last. Nor would they find 60 millions in the next year, equivalent to the same sum now; and, instead of a deficiency of 90,000l. they would see it continually increasing.

Mr. Canning

wished to restate part of the opinions delivered by him on the preceding evening, which had been misconceived. He did not complain of the government for not issuing letters of marque, but of the absence of all maritime military efforts against the coast of America at an early period of the war. Had sufficient armaments been seasonably stationed off the American ports, all the American vessels would have been hermetically sealed up in those ports. He did not mean to say, as had been supposed, that the whole of our commerce had been swept away by the maritime efforts of America. What he meant to say was, that the captures by the Americans were greater in an infinite proportion than they ought to have been, considering the disproportion between our ships and theirs. The Chancellor of the Exchequer seemed to have forgot his logic when he thought that this charge was answered by an amount of the exports from the port of London; for the amount of those exports by no means indicated their arrival at their place of destination. His charge against the government for not publishing a counter-declaration to that issued by America, on the subject of captain Henry's supposed mission, was also unanswered. The American declaration stood recorded in the face of the world, and the government had not done the country justice in not stating the denial in a manner equally public. Why was such a counter-declaration withheld? Because, said the noble lord, of its being irritable matter. This was humiliation with a vengeance, if the Americans were to be allowed to publish such a charge, and we were not to answer them for fear of irritating them. Much had been said in the course of the evening, on the subject of peace. He believed there existed in the government of France, a determination to pull down this country from the situation which she held in Europe; and therefore we had not only to contend with our other difficulties, but also with that permanent hostility of sentiment, which was not alone directed against our warlike power, but against our very existence as a nation. It was dangerous, therefore, to throw out among the people that peace was easy of attainment. Great distress certainly existed in the country, though it had been greatly exaggerated; but a warning ought to be taken from the proceedings previous to the repeal of the Orders in Council, not to hold out hopes which might only end in disappointment. He wished to know from the noble lord what was the real situation of this country with respect to America? He had listened attentively to the noble lord's speech of last night; but if any person this morning had asked him whether we were at war with America, or whether there was a negociation with that power, or whether the war or the negociation predominated, he could not have given him a satisfactory answer.

Lord Castlereagh

conceived the statement he made on the former evening, with respect to our situation with America, could not have been misunderstood; it was neither more nor less than a state of unqualified warfare. As to a counter declaration, it would have been improper to issue it until an answer was returned by America to the repeal of the Orders in Council, and to the proposition which had been made to her.

The Amendment was then negatived, and the Report brought up. On the question, That it be now read,

Mr. Ponsonby

rose, and explained his reasons for pursuing the line he had done on the former evening. If he had been in the House in 1793, he would have voted for Mr. Fox's motion to send an ambassador to Paris, to prevent the breaking out of the war; and for this reason, because the whole question was, whether the government of France, as then constituted, was fit to be treated with; and as he was of opinion, that one independent state should not interfere with the government of another, he, of course, conceived that a treaty might be concluded with the provisional council which then ruled in France; and he would have confined himself to this opinion, that it was more easy to treat for the prevention of war than for peace. His hon. friend had stated, that there were persons who entertained an opinion, that no peace could be made with the present emperor of France. Now, if his hon. friend could shew him that such an idea was cherished by any of his Majesty's ministers, he pledged himself to vote with him for an Address to-morrow; because he thought the French emperor might be treated with as well as the head of any other government. His hon. friend had said, that the Address only proposed to the Prince Regent to examine whether a peace could be made on proper terms. This certainly was a mitigated character of the measure; but still it implied one of these two things—either that the ministers were not willing to enter into a negociation, or that the necessity of peace was so urgent, that it became the duty of the House to interfere. Now, if the first assumption were true, it would not be safe or constitutional to address the throne to seek for peace; the Address ought to be for the removal of ministers. On the other hand, if ministers were as ready as they stated themselves, to enter into a negociation, the ground of an Address must be, that they mistook the situation of the country, and did not see the necessity of making peace, even if they could, and that, therefore, the House must interpose. He did not think the country was in that situation; and, however mitigated the form of Address might be, if they interfered at all with the known prerogative of the crown, it would be telling the enemy that the distresses of the country called for peace. He, therefore, could not consent to deviate from the ordinary system of the constitution, not having that information which the cabinet ministers alone possessed.

Mr. Whitbread

went over the arguments which he had before advanced in support of his Address; and in reference to his assertion that a spirit existed in this country, personally hostile to the French emperor, he instanced a pamphlet which was published by authority, during lord Sidmouth's administration, and sent to the different clergymen throughout England, to be read in their respective churches, filled with the grossest falsehoods, relative to Buonaparté; and he inferred that this spirit had not subsided, as one of the paragraphs in the Speech from the throne, at the conclusion of the last session, seemed to speak language somewhat similar.

Mr. Canning

defended the passage in the Speech of the Lords Commissioners alluded to by the hon. gentleman; and then went over nearly the same grounds, on the subject of peace with France, as he had before done.

Mr. Bathurst

defended the administration of lord Sidmouth, and denied, peremptorily, as far as his recollection permitted him, the authorised publication of any such pamphlet as that mentioned by the hon. gentleman.

Mr. Whitbread

said, it was shewn to him by the clergyman of a church in Bedfordshire; and the person who wrote it, [Mr. Cobbett] afterwards declared, that it was circulated throughout the country by order of government.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

wished to know, if he could see the publication alluded to?

Mr. Whitbrcad

said he had a copy of it, and the right hon. gentleman should have it in a few hours.

Mr. Canning

begged to put a question to ministers, namely, at what time it was their intention to bring forward the subject of the renewal of the East India Company's Charter. This was a question of very general importance, and it was peculiarly desirable to those interested, that it should be known, whether it was or was not to be agitated previous to the Christmas recess.

Lord Castlereagh

said, it certainly was not the intention of government to bring forward the alluded to before Christmas. But, being a question of such importance, if government could come to an arrangement with the East India Company during the recess, it was their intention to bring forward the discussion at the earliest possible period after the recess.

The Report was then agreed to.