§ Mr. Poulett Thomson
said, he had to present a Petition from individuals whose wealth, influence, and respectability placed them on a footing of equality with the highest classes of their fellow-subjects, and entitled their sentiments on all subjects, but more especially on that which was involved in their petition, to the most earnest and respectful attention of the House. It related to the monopoly of the East-India Company, in reference to which they held but one opinion, and that was embodied in the petition which he had the honour to present. It was not necessary for him, on that occasion, to say any thing of his own sentiments, he would merely state the views which were taken by the petitioners. He was gratified in having an opportunity of doing so, as it had been industriously represented that the merchants of London, who were concerned in the East India trade, had separate interests, and entertained separate opinions, quite different from those already so generally expressed by the merchants of the outports. The petition in his hand fully refuted those assertions, and proved that the London merchants made common cause with the parties to former petitions, and perfectly coincided in their sentiments with the merchants and manufacturers at the outports.
178 The petitioners, said Mr. Thomson, are merchants and agents connected with the trade of the East Indies, resident in London; and they state,That they are deeply interested in the inquiry now pending in your hon. House ' into the state of the Trade between Great Britain, the East Indies, and China,' as connected with a renewal of the Charter to the East-India Company.That it is their opinion, from the experience obtained since the opening of the trade to the East Indies, by the 53rd of George 3rd, and subsequent acts, that the manufacturing, shipping, and commercial interests of the United Kingdom have derived very important advantages therefrom.That they confidently rely that, in any renewal of the Charter of the East India Company, due provision will be made to allow such free intercourse of British subjects with India, and to give to them such right of settling therein, as shall (consistently with the security of the British Government, and the welfare of the native population) be best calculated to promote the full development of the internal resources of that country, and, by the application of British skill and capital, improve its various products, especially those of sugar, cotton, silk, and tobacco; these being the principal means by which, in the opinion of your petitioners, a further extension of the valuable trade with India, now obstructed by the difficulty of obtaining returns, may be facilitated.That, adverting to the fact of the Government of India having recently imposed a heavy and most vexatious burthen on the commerce of that country, through the operation of the 'Stamp Regulation,' it is, in their opinion, due to the commercial interests of India that the trade should be at once relieved from that burthen, and protected against the imposition of any tax whatever by the local government, without a fair opportunity being afforded to all parties affected thereby of canvassing its merits and provisions, and of submitting to the Government such objections as they may entertain to the measure, previously to its acquiring the force of law.They further state, that it is their opinion, supported by the personal experience of many of them, that commercial dealings, on the part of the Government of India, whether as merchants or manufacturers, are destructive of fair competition, and arc, in consequence, calculated rather to depress than excite commercial enterprise through the countries subject to their dominion. It is, therefore, most important to the mercantile prosperity of India that the government of that country should be entirely restricted from all commercial dealings, save and except, in reference to the export trade from India to Europe, it be absolutely necessary to buy produce in open market, for the purpose of remittance in aid of the territorial demands on the London treasury, 179 when no other means of supply can be obtained.The petitioners add, however, "That, whilst they express this opinion as to the bounds which should be set to the commercial interference of the government of India, they desire to be distinctly understood not to uphold the usefulness or necessity of even such limited transactions, believing as they do, that the condition of India will, under a free and open competition of commerce, afford further proof to the experience furnished by all other countries in the world, that the work of remittance can be best performed by means of the industry, intelligence, and economy of merchants individually interested in the result of their undertakings.The petitioners further say, that they refrain, at this time, from making any declaration on the important question of the monopoly in the supply of tea to this country, now vested in the East-India Company, because, in their opinion, that subject is interwoven with various other considerations, besides those purely commercial, which render a full investigation indispensably necessary for establishing a fair and just decision as to the course which it may be wise to pursue in furtherance of the common interests of the country.But, pending the consideration which is now giving to this most important object, the petitioners say they cannot withhold the expression of their opinion that the interests of British merchants, ship-owners, and manufacturers, ought not to be any longer disregarded in relation to the commerce of China; nor the expression of their hope, that merchants of this country shall be no longer excluded from the exercise of their skill, and the employment of their capital, in a lucrative branch of the commerce of the world, open to all other nations of Europe and America, whilst the exclusion of the private merchants of the United Kingdom has, without producing any corresponding benefit to the East-India Company, had the direct effect of checking the general commerce of the country, and narrowing the consumption of its manufactures.These being the views," said Mr. Thomson in conclusion, "which the petitioners entertain on this important subject, they pray your honourable House will adopt such measures as may afford greater facilities for the extension of the trade with India and China, promote its general prosperity, and conduce to the improvement and welfare of the vast population of the British territories in the East.He had read the Petition, he then stated, at full length, in order to shew that the petitioners entertained the same opinions as the large body of merchants throughout the country, who were by their petitions calling on Parliament to do away the East-India Company's monopoly.
§ Mr. Huskisson
stated, that he was about to present a Petition, very numerously and 180 respectably signed, praying that the East India Company's charter might not be renewed. The signature of every merchant, every banker, and every ship-owner in Liverpool was affixed to this petition, and the petitioners were in number about 7,000. That was not the time for debating such a subject, as it could be more fitly discussed in the committee to which the petition might be referred; but he would merely observe, that exclusive privileges in these days were out of fashion. Although he did not mean to make a particular application of his remark to the East India Company, he would not scruple to affirm, that more industry would have been called into employment if monopoly had never been in existence.
§ General Gascoyne
said, he had another Petition of the same sort to present. He hoped that when the question came to be discussed, they would not be met with an argument founded upon the immense capital which the Company invested in their concern and the business of their trade. He was afraid, however, that it would be said—What! do you propose to take away the trade with China, without enabling them to pay their debt? Such an argument might be valid if the Company had paid off any debt while it had the trade all to itself, but it happened that the debt of the Company had increased since 1813, from 7,000,000l. to 40,000,000l. He hoped also, that in the coming discussion, they should hear nothing of vested interests in the maintenance of a monopoly. The petitioners, he observed, did not interfere with the political management of India; all they asked for was commercial freedom. For his own part, he was quite at a loss to understand upon what ground it would be sought to continue the monopoly of the China trade. The interests of millions were not to be sacrificed for the sake of two or 3,000.
§ Mr. Astell
rebuked the hon. and gallant officer for having indulged in some exaggerated statements. In the committee the question, he hoped, would rest only on its own merits, and be decided on the principle of justice, apart from the consideration of the relative units, whether millions or thousands, on the one side or the other, and without reference to the exaggerated statements which were every now and then made to the House.
§ The Petition to be printed,181