HL Deb 29 June 1807 vol 9 cc664-6
Lord Hawkesbury

presented, by his majesty's command, the Order in Council, continuing the provisions of the American Intercourse act, which expired during the recess, and gave notice that it was the intention of his majesty's government to propose to parliament a bill for continuing the above act for a time to be then specified, and to propose in such bill a clause of Indemnity for the advice given to his majesty to continue the provisions of the former act, after it had legally expired.

Lord Auckland

stated that the reason he did not, when in office, recommend the continuance of the act which had now expired was the pending negociation with America. He trusted, that when the treaty which was the result of that negociation came to be discussed, it would be discussed as a treaty ratified, and he felt satisfied it would be found that every possible attention had been paid to the interests of this country. He thought it but fair now to state, that when the question of the renewal of the American Intercouse act came to be discussed, he should probably be of opinion, that the same reasons which before operated did not exist for the continuance of the act. One part of it, in particular, he objected to, and was objected to during the negociation; he alluded to that part of it which allowed to the Americans a carrying-trade between our possessions in the East Indies and Europe.

Lord Holland

referred to the Bill of Rights to prove the illegality of levying money by the authority of the crown, without the consent of parliament, and which he contended was done in the present instance, by continuing to levy duties without any competent authority.

Lord Hawkesbury

admitted that it was an infraction of the law, and therefore his majesty's ministers came to parliament for indemnity. Admitting the general principle, as stated by the noble lord, he wished to be understood that this case must stand upon its own special circumstances, of which that house would judge when the subject came regularly before them.

Lord Grenville

contended that the order of council for levying duties which had no legal existence was a violation of a most important constitutional principle, which ought to undergo the most serious discussion in that house. Ministers had advised his majesty to levy duties for a whole month without any legal authority, and now proposed to introduce a clause in the bill intended to be brought in to indemnify themselves for this violation of the law. He thought at least that house ought to have the opportunity of discussing the great question involved in this act of the ministers in a manner which its importance deserved, and not in the shape of a clause tacked to a money bill.

Lord Holland

considered the question of so much importance, that he deemed it necessary to move for the appointment of a committee to search for precedents since the year 1688, of money being levied or applied by the crown without the authority of parliament.

Earl Bathurst

explained the nature of the operation of the order of council, which in fact raised no new duties, and raised in many instances less duties, in no instance higher than the crown was legally entitled to after the expiration of the act under a former subsisting act.

Lord Grenville ,

contended that this statement did not alter the nature of the case. By levying lower duties than the crown was legally entitled to, might, in some instances, be levying more money than before, as in the case of prohibitory duties, in which, by lessening the duty, more money might be raised. It was still, therefore, a violation of the principles of the constitution, for which only urgent and imperious necessity could be pleaded, and if the necessity arose out of the late dissolution of parliament, it would still remain for ministers to account for their conduct in advising a dissolution of parliament, without making provision for the legal continuance of an act which they afterwards deemed it necessary to continue without legal authority.

The Lord Chancellor

defended the expediency of the order of council, but admitted that it might be more adviseable to bring the indemnity as a separate measure before parliament.

Lord Harrowby

urged that the order of council only went to carry into effect the last known intentions of the legislature; similar circumstances had repeatedly happened under almost every government, and in many instances an indemnity had not been applied for. He conceived the motion of the noble lord (Holland) was not called for by any circumstances in the present case, which was nothing more than a mere formal violation of the law.

Lord Grenville

observed that the argument of the noble lord (Harrowby) did not apply, as it was a matter of great doubt, whether the legislature would again continue the act; it therefore did not appear that ministers had carried into effect the intentions of the legislature.—Some further observations were made by lords Hawkesbury, Auckland, Holland, Grenvile, Boringdon, the earls of Lauderdale, Roslyn, and the lord chancellor, after which lord Hawkesbury moved the previous question, which was put and carried.

Lord Grenville

wished for some farther information with respect to any subsequent directions for carrying the order of council into effect.

Lord Hawkesbury

said he would make the necessary inquiries.