HC Deb 18 November 1813 vol 27 cc158-63

On the motion for the third reading of the Militia Bill,

Alderman Curtis

observed, that as doubts had arisen with respect to the nature of this Bill as affecting the city of London, he was desired to "introduce" a clause into it [a laugh], to save the rights and privileges of that city. At the same time he had the happiness to state, that the common council had this day come to an unanimous resolution to have an application made to that House, which would be presented in the usual way on Monday or Tuesday next, for leave to bring in a Bill to allow the militias of the city of London to do the same as was proposed by the Bill before the House with regard to the other militia regiments throughout the country.

Lord Castlercagh

said, that he should not object to the clause proposed, and expressed the gratification he derived from the statement of the hon. baronet adding that as the citizens of London had expressed such an honourable disposition to serve the common cause of their country it would be right to allow that they should render that service in the manner which they themselves thought proper to propose.

The clause which provided that this Bill should not extend to the city of London was accordingly adopted.

Mr. Whitbread

then rose to bring forward a motion of which he had given notice, with regard to an amendment in the preamble of this Bill. He could not, he said, calculate upon being able to persuade the noble lord (Castlereagh) to assent to, or the House to adopt, the amendment which he had to submit; but yet he thought it proper to put on record the grounds upon which he was induced to give his support to ministers at this important crisis; namely, from a strong wish and confident expectation that the exertions which they had made, and which they were about to make, would tend to the attainment of the blessing of peace. He was not insensible to the burthens the country had to bear, or to the grievous weight which was to be added to those burthens by the resolutions to which the House had so lately assented; neither was he insensible to the invasion of the old constitutional practice which the measure under consideration involved, nor to the great injustice to which that measure was in its progress and execution calculated to subject many meritorious officers whose complaints had reached him, but whose case was obvious before those complaints were heard. He was not insensible either of the nature and tendency of the several similar expedients which had been resorted to, from time to time, to recruit our disposable force, and which expedients being from their character unfit and inadequate to their purpose, led to this last great exertion for the reinforcement of our army. He had also in his recollection several other points, which might at another time call for animadversion. The proposition, for instance, of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, upon the subject of local tokens, was a direct confession with regard to the state of our silver currency; while the measure brought forward by the noble lord (Castlereagh) respecting the acceptance of foreign bills, for the accommodation of our allies, was obviously calculated to aggravate an evil long and justly complained of, by increasing the amount of our paper currency. But still, with all these considerations in his mind—with his eyes fully open respecting them, he was ready to support and confide in government, from a strong reliance upon its disposition to obtain peace; and this reliance particularly rested upon the noble lord (Castlereagh); many parts of whose speech, last night, he heard with peculiar gratification. From that speech, indeed, he was much more satisfied than he had ever felt before. The conduct of the war with America the hon. gentleman also thought deserving of particular attention; and therefore he would lay in his claim at a proper opportunity to consider those parts of that conduct which deemed questionable; but, at present he would abstain from the discussion of that and the other points to which he had referred, and indeed, from any topic likely to occasion trouble to ministers; being willing to leave them wholly unincumbered and disengaged, to devote their minds and exertions to the attainment of a lasting and honourable peace. Still he wished to record on the Journals the grounds upon which he was so willing to give his support to ministers, by proposing to insert the following paragraph in the preamble of the Bill, namely, "for bringing the war to a speedy and happy termination; and obtaining the blessings of peace upon terms of reciprocity, honour, and security to all the belligerent power." Recurring to the speech of the noble lord (Castlereagh), the hon. gentleman repeated, that from some parts of it he drew a much happier augury than the tone and temper of the Prince Regent's Speech or any thing he had heard before, was calculated to produce; and he meant particularly, that immediately after the battle of Vittoria, ministers had communicated their readiness to accept the proffered mediation of Austria. In selecting that happy moment, which was so well calculated to inspire high and triumphant, ideas to express their disposition towards peace, ministers had evinced a character eminently deserving of his confidence; and if there were any part of the administration more disposed towards peace than another, he had no hesitation in expressing his readiness to fortify that part, by seconding any measure which it thought proper to bring forward with a view to the attainment of such a desirable object. The hon. member repeated that he had no hope that his amendment would be adopted; and it was, no doubt; consistent with the noble lord's views to oppose its adoption; for his proposition was, he understood, conceived to involve a reflection upon former administrations, whom he viewed, he must confess, with a jealousy upon this subject, which certainly did not apply to his Majesty's present ministers.

The amendment being put,

Lord Castlereagh

rose and declared his objection to the motion; because he should conceive it a dereliction of his duly, to acquiesce in an amendment which would imply that this measure was brought forward in a different spirit and with a different view from that which had characterized other measures of a similar nature, to which this House had assented. He fully concurred with the hon. member in a wish for peace; but he trusted the House and the country would not conceive that peace was in the hands of his Majesty's ministers. They knew the enemy with whom they had to contend—and the perhaps, still more formidable character of the enemy with whom they had to negotiate. They concurred with the hon. member in an anxious wish for peace; but they were resolved to look for a peace not only fair and honourable, but such as should hold out a reasonable prospect of secure repose to the country after the arduous and long protracted contest in which it had been engaged—not such as might do little else than lead the country to disarm, merely to place itself at, the mercy of the enemy. His Majesty's ministers were not willing to disguise from themselves, or from the country, the dangers which might belong to peace, any more than the dangers and calamities incident to war. Their object was, a lasting and honourable peace; and upon this subject, he would adopt the language of the emperor of Austria, who stated, that he would rather incur all the risks of war, than remain in peace subject to the dread of daily aggression or perpetual convulsion. He therefore deprecated the idea of imposing upon the country by the mere sound of peace; but it should be prompted to look for that solid and satisfactory arrangement which was alone to be valued, and for which he had no doubt that the hon. mover was as solicitous as any other individual whatever. The hon. member was correct in the passage which he had thought proper to quote from what he (lord C) addressed to the House last night with respect to the communication of his Majesty's ministers to the allies after the battle of Vittoria. They certainly did authorise Russia to accept the mediation of Austria; accompanying the authority by a statement of the principles which should govern the negotiation, and particularly including an inviolable adherence to the faith by which this country stood pledged to its allies. The proposition of Austria was however, rejected by the enemy; and that rejection, demonstrating his real temper, served to unite that great power with the allies. But the disposition which his Majesty's ministers manifested on that occasion they still retained. Whenever a fair opportunity for negociation or a rational prospect of peace offered, they would not fail to embrace it; but they could never forget either the enemy with whom they had to contend, or the enemy with whom they had to negociate.

Mr. W. Smith

, feeling, in common with every man in this country, the most lively joy at the prospects which brightened upon us, would not throw any impediment in the way of ministers, and, if he thought this motion intended to oppose them, would not support it; but he thought its tendency very different. He considered it not amiss to state specific reasons for acceding to a measure like the present, at this time. He certainly thought that the militia would be more likely to volunteer, if it was understood that the end of their, exertions would be the acquirement of a secure peace; for he was not alarmed by, the noble lord's exposition of his view of peace; he regarded it in the same light, and wished for no other than that which, his lordship had described. But in saying this, he must own that he did not consider it as so near. He thought we should still have an arduous struggle before we could conquer such a peace as, after all we had done, and all the world had suffered, we were entitled to expect. He wished the words to be added to the preamble of the Bill, for the satisfaction of the country, and the popularity of the measure.

Mr. Whitbread

wished to explain, that he always thought it impossible to conclude any peace but such as that which the noble lord contemplated. He declared most sincerely, that in all the efforts which he had made in former sessions, and under different circumstances, to create a pacific disposition in the government of the country, he never advocated peace on other grounds than those now mentioned. He wished it to have been tried, because he thought that it had not properly been done; and that, if attempted in the spirit of sincerity, it might have succeeded. When, in contemplation of a great, arduous, and protracted struggle, he was willing to augment the means of ministers, to free them from all shackles of opposition, and to lavish the resources of the country; surely no one could doubt for what purpose he would allow such exertions and such sacrifices to be made, or suppose that he, did not mean a secure and an honourable peace. He wished the government to make those redoubled exertions; and if our candour and moderation did not prevail over the enemy, and incline him to peace, if he obstinately sacrificed the repose of Europe to the prosecution of his ambitious designs, and reason and justice were equally powerless upon him; then, instead of lowering our tone, or humiliating ourselves, he wished the country and government to appear ready to make still greater exertions, that they might at last be crowned with success.

Mr. C. W. Wynne

would think such interference as the present necessary, if he saw any indisposition in ministers to enter fairly into the question of peace. But he perceived no symptoms of that kind in their conduct, and on that ground could not accede to his hon. friend's motion. If the words which he proposed had been originally in the preamble to the Bill, he should not have objected to them, but he thought their introduction unnecessary. In looking to peace, we only could look for a safe and permanent one; and none could be safe and permanent, that was not founded on the reduction of the enemy's power.

The question was then put and negatived.

The Bill was read a third time; and, after some observations from Mr. Wynne and lord Castlereagh, the various clauses were agreed to, and the Bill was passed.