HC Deb 01 December 1813 vol 27 cc225-8

Lord Castlereagh moved the second reading of the East India Trade Regulation Bill.

Mr. Finlay

rose, not, he said, to oppose the motion, but to submit some observations upon the line of policy to which the measure referred. It seemed extraordinary, that the British merchants were in all cases upon at least an equality with foreigners, excepting in places under the dominion of our India Company; and it must strike every reflecting equitable man with surprize, that such a system of inequality should be allowed to exist with regard to territories acquired and maintained by British arms, in which indeed so much British capital was invested. B the Act of last sessions it was, no doubt, provided, that British merchants were allowed to trade with India; but under very many restrictions and limitations, from which foreign merchants trading to the East were entirely free. The foreigner for instance, was at liberty to trade to India in a vessel of any size he thought proper, and to take his home cargo for sale to any market in Europe of elsewhere. From this advantage, it was notorious that America and other states derived considerable benefit. In fact, to the profits which it yielded, the means; which America possessed of waging her present unnatural war with this country might, in a great measure, be attributed. But he confessed himself quite unable to understand the grounds of such policy, as would allow; any foreigners to enjoy advantages of trade with our own territories from which British merchants were excluded. Yet, by the present Bill, it was proposed to sanction such exclusion, by, prohibiting British merchants from carrying India produce to any European ports while foreigners, as he before observed, possessed that very material advantage. The disadvantage of such an arrangement to British merchants could not be disputed; for it was perfectly clear, that do British merchant would bring East India sugar, or other articles of India produce, to the port of London, if he were not compelled to do so; particularly while he could dispose of such articles on so much better terms at Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and other places, to which, however, the foreign merchant was, under the law, quite at liberty to take any Indian cargo, Upon what principle, he would ask, could such a difference in favour of the foreigner; be justified or excused? or why should the trade be thrown open to the foreigner, while British merchants were thus restrained? If the East Indian territories were governed upon the same principle as our western colonies, the British merchants would not have the reason to complain which existed in this case; because here the foreigner was admitted to participate of a trade, on terms far more advantageous than those granted to the British merchant. And the consequence of, this arrangement would be, that the principal part of the East India trade was likely to fall into the hands of foreigners, because it would give them a decided advantage in the European markets. This was the more to be deprecated, because it was a known fact, that more of East India goods had in several years beep sold at Hamburgh and Copenhagen, than in this country. Therefore those who had the best opportunity of taking those goods to the continental markets must enjoy a de- cided advantage; and yet, according to the policy to which the Bill before the House referred, the British merchants were to be deprived of even the chance of competition in those markets. For himself, be declared that he could not conceive any just ground to prevent the principle of the noble lord's Bill from being pushed farther, by allowing British merchants to carry East India produce to Europe, as well as to the other quarters specified in the. Bill. He could not suppose, that such an extension of the principle would receive opposition from any quarter entitled to attention; for he could not apprehend that the India Company would feel any jealousy against the proposition, or, would attempt, to oppose it. But if even such opposition should arise, he trusted that the House would attend, to the claims of justice, and take care that British merchants should not be excluded from an advantage of trade with our own territories. He had reason to believe, that an expectation generally prevailed that British merchants would be admitted to enjoy the advantages he had described, by extending the liberal principle of the noble lord's Bill; and he hoped the noble lord would be induced to propose such an extension before the close of the sessions.

Lord Castlereagh

felt no hesitation in expressing his concurrence with the hon. member's principle, as to the propriety of throwing open to British merchants every description of our trade, that to the colonies alone excepted; those colonies having their own system, upon the merits of which system he did not at present think it necessary to state any opinion. But while, he thus concurred with the hon. member, he could not think this the proper time for proposing, the extension recommended by him. Upon bringing forward the proposition before the House, he stated the reason on which he acted. He thought that as there appeared difference of opinion as to the degree of extension proposition had in view, it was desirable to have it enacted before the recess; while the propriety of a further extension, which might give rise to controversy, should be postponed to a more convenient period. For himself, he was free to declare, that he saw no reason why British merchants should not be enabled to compete with foreigners in the sale of Indian produce in any market whatever; and particularly in that which was the most valuable, namely, the mar- ket of Europe. This ability British merchants could not be expected to possess, if compelled to bring their cargoes to an English port, while the foreigners were at liberty to take a direct route to any European market they thought proper. When, therefore, the moment should come, that the competition of foreigners in this trade was to be apprehended, the subject referred to by the hon. member would demand the immediate attention of parliament. But at present, when no foreign competition existed, it was deemed more advisable, on various grounds that our merchants should, bring their Indian cargoes to England—should make this country the emporium of trade, and hence to take the Indian produce to the continent, with an assortment of other articles of our produce and manufacture, and so prove advantageous to our general commerce; If, however, America or any other state were trading with the East there could not be, in his judgment, any successful resistance to the hon. member's principle. He trusted that the commerce of foreigners with our eastern territories would never be prohibited; but as in was known that America could not, and that, for reasons unnecessary, to detail, no European state was likely for some time to engage in any Indian trade, it did not seem necessary, immediately to press the principle maintained by the hon. member to the extent of his desire. When however, the trade of foreigners with India should be resumed, he had no doubt that parliament would be found attentive to the claim of the British merchant, and that foreigners would not be allowed to enjoy any such preference as the hon. member so justly deprecated.

Mr. Protheroe

said, that he felt peculiarly happy from the statement of noble lord. He confessed that he had been disappointed to find that the principle of the bill before the House was not carried father; but be was satisfied he was satisfied with the noble lord's explanation. As to the India Company, he could not see upon what ground they could feel any jealousy against the proposed or desired extension of the British merchant's trade in Indian produce; because the object of such extension was not to interfere with their interests, but with the interests of foreigners, to whom it was impossible the India Company could be disposed to grant any preference.

The Bill was read a second time.