HC Deb 13 March 1815 vol 30 cc157-63

On the order of the day for the House to resolve itself into a Committee of the whole House, to consider of the Act 9 Anne, c. 21, for for making good deficiencies, and satisfying the public debts; and for erecting a corporation to carry on a trade to the South Seas, and for the encouragement of the fishery; and for liberty to trade in unwrought iron with the subjects of Spain; and to repeal the Acts for registering seamen,

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

took a view of the establishment of the South Sea Company, and observed that this corporation possessed the exclusive privilege of trading to America, from the river Oroo-noko, round Cape Horn to the north-west coast of that continent. This exclusive privilege had for many years been of no advantage to that Company; but South America having become at last open to us, it might become a great obstacle to our commerce. He therefore had to state the terms on which the Company were willing to sell it to the country. That Company had lent all its capital to the Government, for which they received 3l. per cent.; and they also obtained a further dividend of ½ per cent. on their capital, by acting as agents for Government in the payment of the dividends of such part of the public debt as existed in 1721. By the Act of 1813, which would cancel all the national debt which existed before the establishment of the sinking fund, they would lose that ½ per cent. They therefore consented to abandon their exclusive privilege of trade, on condition that the Government would guarantee this ½ per cent, or about 18,000l. a year to them. For this income it was his intention to propose the creation of a fund, by a duty on tonnage of ships trading to South America, and on the export of goods thither, to the amount of 2l. per cent. The fund necessary would be 400,000l.; when that sum was accumulated, the duty would be repealed. A duty of 4l. per cent. on goods shipped to South America would expire on the 16th of March, so that a renewal of only half that duty would be necessary. He concluded by moving the following Resolutions: 1. "That the exclusive right of trade granted to the South Sea Company by an Act made in the 9th year of the reign of queen Anne, do cease and determine. 2. That, in consideration of the surrender of such exclusive right, a guarantee fund be created in any of the public funds or annuities, bearing an interest of 3l. per centum per annum, which shall accumulate until it amounts to the sum of 610,464l. 3s. capital stock, bearing an interest at 3l. per centum per annum, and such capital stock shall then he transferred to the said Company. 3. That until the said sum of 610,464l. 3s capital stock shall be so accumulated and transferred as aforesaid, it shall be lawful for the lords commissioners of his Majesty's Treasury to direct the issue, out of the consolidated fund of Great Britain, from time to time, of such sums of money as may be necessary to enable the said Company to pay a dividend of ½ per centum per annum on their trading stock, after applying to that purpose all the funds of the said Company which now are or may remain applicable thereto. 4. That a duty of 1s. 6d. shall be granted, for a time to be limited, for and upon every ton burthen of every ship or vessel entering outwards or inwards in any port of the United Kingdom to or from any port or place within the limits of the sole and exclusive trade granted to the said Company by the said Act. 5. That a custom duty of 2l. be charged upon every 100l. of the value of all goods, wares, or merchandize, the growth, produce, or manufacture of the United Kingdom, exported to any of the said ports or places, for a time to be limited." The first resolution being put,

Mr. Bennet

thought the proposition just and equitable; but he wished to make some observations on the state of the country which was the subject of the law on which they were deliberating, viz. South America. All that continent was now in arms, and the spectacle of a great nation struggling for liberty had always been regarded with peculiar interest by this country. He wished to know whether any steps had been taken by this country to mediate between the mother country and the colonies? The consequence of the dreadful- struggle had been, that in the kingdom of Mexico, no less than one million of human beings had been destroyed in 1813 and 1814. From the Oroonoko to Cumana the country was a perfect waste. To give an idea of the horrible nature of the war, he should state, that when the city of Valencia surrendered to the royalists, the capitulation was sworn to on the altar, and high mass was performed in presence of the parties; when the old Spaniards entered the town, within twelve hours they gave it up to pillage, and executed the unhappy patriots who remained in it. Had any offer of mediation been made on the part of this country? He knew that offers had been made to, and rejected by the Cortes; but there was a difference between a Cortes under the influence of the monopolists of Cadiz, and Ferdinand the 7th. From the cruelty and ferocity of Ferdinand, perhaps they had as little to expect, but some attempts at least should be made. A man had been sent as viceroy to the new world, who, after having betrayed an army to the French in his own country, had gone to America, where, without taking active steps to suppress the rebellion, he issued such orders as deluged that continent in blood. An expedition had since been sent out to South America, commanded, to his disgrace, by a British officer. That expedition he prayed to God might perish on the shores of the New World! This country had to choose between eighteen million of free people, and nine million of slaves—between a people who had opened their ports to us, and a despotic Court who had persecuted our merchants, insulted our trade, and oppressed our subjects. It had been said, that Great Britain had remained neutral in the contest. This, he believed, was not true. During the war in the Peninsula, under the very eye of sir Henry Wellesley, an expedition had been sent to the New World, fitted out by British money, the troops appointed with British arms and clothing. The conduct of the governors of Curacoa was of the same description. They received the fugitives of the royalist party, provided them with arms and ammunition, to renew their attempts. But when the patriots were driven out in their turn, they excluded them from the islands, and forced them to seek and find protection from Petion, a black—the excellent man who governed a part of St. Domingo. The patriots of America had to complain of us for a breach of en- gagement towards them; the Cortes and people of Spain had also to complain of us, for having suffered their constitution to be destroyed, and themselves to be delivered over to an usurper—for such was Ferdinand the 7th. The hon. member expressed a wish to know by what minister the Regent had been advised to send the Order of the Garter to Ferdinand, and to accept the Order of the Golden Fleece? and he also desired to learn, whether the British Government had entered into any treaty or engagement whatever, guaranteeing the South American colonies to Spain?

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

trusted the committee would see the propriety of his declining on this occasion to enter into details of such delicacy as were referred to by the hon. member, and the more so as the hon. member's observations were not properly relevant to the subject before the committee. He had, however, no difficulty in stating, that upon the offer of mediation which had been made on our part between Spain and its colonies, his Majesty's ministers were always ready to act. In our endeavours, indeed, to procure independence and liberty for Old Spain, we had ever been equally anxious to obtain the liberty of its colonies. Upon the commercial advantage likely to accrue to this country from the establishment of a complete freedom of trade in South America, he should at present abstain from delivering any opinion; but, however interesting or important that freedom might be, neutrality, in the present contest between South America and the mother country, was the duty and the resolution of Great Britain; which never could attempt to seek any object, however beneficial, from a connexion with the former, that should be tainted with, any thing like treachery towards the latter.

Mr. Whitbread

thought, that as the subject before the committee referred to the opening of a free trade with South America, the opportunity had been very properly chosen by his hon. friend to bring forward the questions to which he had adverted. The proposition being to open the South American ports his hon. friend very naturally submitted some inquiries with regard to that country. His hon. friend had therefore asked, whether, in the contest in which (he would not say the colonies, but) New Spain was engaged with Old Spain, the government of the country had observed neutrally? That New Spain had experienced the most atrocious treatment, as well from the late as from the present government of Spain, was an undeniable fact; and it was desirable for the credit a ltd the interest of this country, to know whether the right hon. gentleman was able to deny that any money, arms, or equipment, had been furnished by our Government, for the purpose of suppressing the patriots of New Spain, in their laudable rebellion against the tyranny of the mother country. It was also desirable to know whether, as his hon. friend's question imported, any of our colonial governors had refused that hospitality to the patriots which had been grained to their oppressors; for such partiality would be obviously inconsistent with those principles of neutrality which the right hon. gentleman professed. If, indeed, the right hon. gentleman were not able to deny such partiality and that it had been actually evinced, the patriots of New Spain would have the best founded reason to complain of our conduct, nay, that our offer of impartial mediation was by no means sincere. If, then, under such circumstances, the people of New Spain should succeed in their gallant efforts to shake off the yoke of their persecutors, and to raise their country to that independent station to which it was entitled, the best interests of this country were but too likely to suffer, for it was the best interest of Great Britain to cultivate an amicable connexion with New Spain. On these grounds, therefore, he lamented that the right hon. gentleman had declined to afford any explanation respecting the points referred to by his hon. friend. It was, he presumed, a mere omission on the part of the right hon. gentleman, not to have noticed his hon. friend's allusion to the grant of the Order of the Garter to Ferdinand, and the acceptance of that of the Golden Fleece by the Prince Regent; for such marks of esteem towards such a person as Ferdinand did certainly not seem very compatible with the feelings likely to belong to any prince reigning over a free people. The minister who had advised such proceedings ought to be made known; and he hoped this, with the other questions so properly submitted by his hon. friend, respecting our conduct towards the usurper, Ferdinand, would be satisfactorily answered by the right hon. gentleman.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

stated that no money or assistance whatever had been supplied by this country to enable the Spanish government to subdue New Spain. As to the Order of the Garter and the Golden Fleece, he could not think that such interchange of ceremonies formed an object worthy to call for the attention of that House. With respect to the recognition of Ferdinand, that prince having been recognised as the sovereign of Spain, by the government with which we had originally treated for the deliverance of that country, and by the Cortes also, he should have thought it very extraordinary indeed, if this country had declined to acknowledge his authority.

Mr. Ponsonby

considered the subject of South America as one of the greatest importance and delicacy. He was far from recommending one step on either side inconsistent with the good faith of Government, or in violation of our neutrality. At the same time he was free to say, that there was no foreign country whatever in the fate of which Great Britain was so much interested as with South America. For he had no doubt that the establishment of the independence of that country, and the detaching of it from Old Spain, was to us an object of the highest importance; but he was equally positive that that object, however desirable, should not be pursued by any means whatever incompatible with our public faith. It was the duty of our Government to attend strictly to its engagements, but at the same time he should hold it imperiously bound in no degree to assist the projects Of Old Spain against the liberties of South America.

Mr. Wynn

concurred with his right hon. friend as to the propriety of observing a strict neutrality in the present contest between Old Spain and South America, but he could not conceive it compatible with that neutrality to refuse that hospitality to the people of South America; which ws afforded to their opponents. This proceeding did certainly not manifest good faith, and he was surprised at the silence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer upon the subject. But he was equally surprised at the undue levity with which the right hon. gentleman had spoken of the grant of the Order of the Garter to Ferdinand. How was it possible that the right hon. gentleman could so undervalue an honour which had been so highly estimated among the first, monarchs in Europe? This distinction had, indeed, been often anxiously looked for, and always gratefully received by the most eminent princes. It was notorious that the favour had been refused to the present, and also to the last king of Sweden. He believed, indeed, that the present king of Spain was the first sovereign of that country who had been favoured with this honour since Philip 2. On these grounds he was astonished at the levity with which the right hon. gentleman had thought proper to express himself with regard to what he had denominated the 'ceremony.'

Mr. Alderman Atkins

inquired, whether it was intended to abolish the South Sea Company altogether?

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

replied in the negative; but the intention was to take the monopoly out of its hands.

Mr. Whitbread

asked, whether any farther steps had been taken for the liberation from Ceuta of M. Correa, and the gentlemen surrendered by general Campbell?

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

replied, that no opportunity would be lost to produce the effect alluded to.

Here a conversation arose upon the proposition of a tax of 2 per cent. upon all goods exported from Great Britain or Ireland, to South America, in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Finlay, and Mr. Alderman Atkins took part. The Chancellor of the Exchequer stated, that the produce of this tax was to be applied in aid of a fund to indemnify the South Sea Company, and that it was to cease when that indemnity was discharged. The two latter objected to it as inconsistent with our commercial policy, by imposing a tax upon our exported manufactures. Mr. Finlay deprecated, and sir J. Newport vindicated the policy of the tax upon foreign linens, with a view to benefit the linen of Ireland and England. The several Resolutions were then agreed to.