HL Deb 04 July 1805 vol 5 cc731-6

Lord Holland rose to bring forward his promised motion for some important information on this subject. He described the proceedings which had taken place in some of the British West India islands, particularly in Jamaica, which induced him to think the present appeal to the wisdom of parliament necessary. They arose principally from the conduct of the governors of those islands, with respect to the discretionary power exercised by them, relative to the commercial intercourse between the islands and the United States of America. He alluded to the suspension of the Navigation Laws, in one point of view, but more especially to the restrictive power exercised by them, with respect to the importation of American produce; so necessary for the sustenance of the islands, and the shipping of that country. The line of conduct to which he referred, either in a political or commercial point of view, was of the most serious importance, and still more, as it affected the supply of the islands with articles of the first necessity, as lumber and provisions. The inhabitants of Jamaica, in particular, felt it so strongly, that their legislative assemblies made repeated representations to the governor upon the subject, who, in one of his answers, stated, he could not permit the importation in neutral bottoms, longer than a given pe- riod. With respect to the question, though, as affecting the interests of the islands, of great importance, it was still of greater, as it might affect the commercial intercourse and good understanding between this country and the United States of America. He deprecated every thing like a narrow, selfish, commercial policy, with respect to America. Ministers should consider the circumstances and situation of America, the great importance of continuing that good understanding and extensive commercial and friendly intercourse which now happily subsisted between the two countries, and to which their common origin, language, and manners, so very fortunately disposed them. One of his objects in coming forward was to give an opportunity to his majesty's ministers to disclaim any such notions or principles as actuated their conduct with respect to the restrictions on the trade and commercial intercourse between the West India islands and America. It so happened, and fortunately, he thought, that our West India islands could not be adequately supplied with articles of the first necessity, except from the United States. He thought this was eventually fortunate, because the important consideration to which he adverted would operate as an additional inducement with the government of this country to cultivate a friendly understanding with America. He adverted to some ineffectual attempts which had been made under former administrations to supply our West India islands from the British dominions in North America. Adverting to the incalculable importance of the American commerce to this country, he observed, that any attempts to exclude America from the trade of our West India islands, would be worse than the conduct, as related in ancient fable, of the dog in the manger, whose determination was comparatively wise and liberal. It would go to remind him of the fable of the two petitioners to Jupiter, to whom the Godhead said, that whatever he gave to the one, the other should have double; then, said one, in a paroxysm of folly and malignity, give me blindness in one eye, that my neighbour may be blind in both eyes? So would it be metaphorically, did this country wish to exclude America from our West India trade, upon the narrow principle of commercial jealousy. His lordship took a view of the policy and effects of the Navigation Act, in its different bearings; and argued, that the changes in the system of Europe, and the relative situation of this country, rendered the policy of acting upon it very different from what it was at its first enactment. In war, generally speaking, it was impracticable. He wished the affairs to which he adverted were placed on a liberal footing and permanent basis; and it was important they should declare what line or system of conduct they intended to adopt, respecting the intercourse between America and our West India colonies, in time of war. Through the whole of his speech, more especially towards the conclusion, the noble lord expatiated upon the great national importance, either in a political or commercial view, of maintaining an amicable intercourse and a close connection with America; and repeated, that one of his principal objects in coming forward was to give ministers an opportunity of disclaiming all notions of narrow or selfish policy, with respect to the intercourse in question; a circumstance which would give great satisfaction to all parties; and with respect to their intended system in future, he thought they should be explicit. His lordship concluded by moving an address to his majesty, "for the production of the communication which took place between the legislative assemblies of Jamaica and his majesty's governor of that island, touching the intercourse between that colony and the United States of America, from the commencement of the war with France, to the 21st of May last; also for copies of the correspondence between his majesty's secretary of state for the colonial department, and the governor of Jamaica, on the subject, within the same interval; also, for various documents, respecting the quantities of provisions, &c. imported from America and the island of Jamaica, at certain given periods, distinguishing those imported from British America, and those from the United States of America."—The question being put on the first motion;

The Earl of Camden, in allusion to what had transpired on the subject on a former evening, observed, he had stated that no counter-orders had been sent out to the governors. The orders which were sent relative to the conduct of the governors, respecting the subject in question, were precisely to the same effect as those sent out for the same purpose during the last war. By the act of the 28th of the King, he observed, all goods and commodities were prohibited from being imported into the British West India Islands from the United States of America, with the exception of certain articles, as provisions and lumber, in cases of necessity; of these, the respective governors were generally constituted the judges. They were to act upon their responsibility with respect to the admission of these articles, and bills of indemnity were passed, when they had acted contrary to the laws. The noble earl adverted to the extensive nature of the information called for, and the propriety of accompanying these documents with others which were necessary for the full illustration of the subject, and which, in this very advanced period of the session, it would be impracticable to produce. He, therefore, submitted to the noble baron the propriety of withdrawing his motion for the present; or, in case he persisted, he should think it his duty to move the order of the day upon them.

Lord Hawkesbury said, that his objections were not so much against producing the required information, as against producing that alone, which would give a false prejudice upon the subject, and would by no means put the house in full possession of the case. Under that conviction, ministers would feel it their duty also to move for a number of additional documents. With respect to what was said of the restrictions upon the trade in question, he had to observe there were many representations made, from respectable and important quarters, of a direct contrary tendency to those alluded to by the noble baron, and reasons adduced, that government, instead of imposing unnecessary restrictions, were, in fact, too indulgent, with respect to that part of the trade of the United States, to the great detriment of the British merchants; their lordships would, therefore, see the propriety of the proposed additional documents, in order to afford parliament and the public an opportunity to decide and judge thoroughly of the merits of the question. He admitted the subject was one which any noble lord might fairly bring before parliament, but the advanced period of the session rendered the production of the necessary documents impracticable. He was, therefore, of opinion with his noble friend, it would be preferable to postpone the discussion to another session, when all the information proper to be laid before parliament could be produced. With respect to the line of conduct intended to be pursued by his majesty's government, relative to the subject in question, it would be regulated by their conviction of the true interests and character of the country, and a due respect the principles of the navigation laws. With respect to what was said of their views, in regard to the trade of America, they would be regulated by no sentiment contrary to those just and liberal principles of commer- cial policy, so well understood in the present day; upon principles, founded not only upon the true interest of their own country, but even with a proper regard to the interest and prosperity of America herself.

The Earl of Stanbope observed, that his majesty's ministers had not given a fair and honest answer to the question put by his noble friend, as to the conduct they meant to pursue with respect to the colonies during the recess of parliament. They dealt in nothing but generalities, and every statement they made was full of ambiguity. He wished their lordships to consider what might be the consequences of starving those slaves whom injustice and inhumanity had torn from their own country, contrary to all the laws of God and man. He wished his majesty's ministers would take an example from the great and wise man who was at the head of the government of America. In a late speech he had drawn a comparison between the situation of the nations of Europe and his own country, in which a tax-gatherer was not to be seen from one end of it to the other. How different was the state of this country! Admiral Vernon used to say, in a rough seaman-like way, that this country was more taxed than any other on this side of hell. Were the worthy admiral living now, he certainly would find it necessary to make use of still stronger language.

The Duke of Montrose saw no reason for the boisterous speech which the noble earl had just made, unless the heat of the weather had so inflamed his imagination, as to render it necessary for him to deliver the observations with which he usually favoured their lordships, in a series of speeches, at this season. A noble earl (the earl of Selkirk,) who entertained similar opinions with the noble lord on the other side of the house, had sold his property in Scotland for the purpose of settling in America, but had returned without carrying his intention into execution. He would therefore recommend it to the noble lord opposite to him, to go to that happy country he praised so much, and he would probably return in better humour with his own.

The Earl of Stanbope said, he would not have it said by any person that he was not in humour with his country, merely because he was not in humour with a set of the most ignorant and mischievous ministers that ever existed in any country.

The Earl of Limerick observed, that if a general importation was permitted in the Colonies from America, the greatest injury would be done to the Irish provision trade. Lord Suffolk supported the motion, and vindicated the motives which had induced lordSelkirk to go to America.

The Earl of Carysfort contended, that the system of which noble lords on the other side had talked, and upon which they acted with respect to the West India Islands, was in fact no system, as it went to encourage the governors of the different Islands continually to violate the law.

Lord Harrowby briefly vindicated the conduct of ministers on the subject in question; and he deemed them sufficiently explicit in their declarations.

Lord Holland spoke in reply, and contended that ministers had not been explicit; their declarations were mere generalities; in allusion to what was said of the emigration of a noble earl (Selkirk) to America, he referred to his late work upon the subject, which he regarded as full of useful information, and vindicated the motives which induced that noble lord to go to the country in question. He warmly reprehended the idea of noble lords being told, when they openly and freely declared their opinions of the misconduct or incapacity of ministers, that they should leave their country if they did not like it. No, it was the duty, as his noble friend well observed, of persons in their situation, to stay in their country, to watch over its interests, to endeavour to rescue it from destruction, and to abide its fate. Such was the duty of members of that house, and they who asserted otherwise knew little of the duties of legislature

The Duke of Montrose said a few words, in consequence of what fell from noble lords opposite; he would not be dictated to, as to the line of debate or observation he should pursue. He would adopt that which he thought most likely to conduce to his objects; it was not his practice to rebuke others, neither would he be rebuked.—The question being loudly called for, a division took place. For the motion, 8—Against it, 14—majority, 6.—Adjourned.

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