§ Lord Hawkesbury
laid upon the table the various Orders in Council with respect to the new commercial regulations, which, during the recess, his majesty's ministers had judged it proper to advise his majesty to put in 150 force. [Copies of the said Orders will be found at p. 126]
declared himself in no ordinary degree anxious to learn from his majesty's ministers, their intentions with respect to the very serious and unprecedented importance of these Orders. He wished first to ascertain, whether it was their intention to make any motion, or institute any proceeding, tending to explain to that house, and to the public, the meaning and object of the measures determined by these Orders to be pursued? He felt solicitous to obtain this preliminary information, before he made a motion for some other documents, in his opinion, necessarily connected with the full explanation of these Orders in Council. It was impossible for him, or any man, when they contemplated the nature of the innovation made by these documents on the political and commercial interests of this country, and of the whole world, not to wish to hear from their framers the fullest, most perspicuous, and most speedy explanation of their meaning, import, object, and presumed effect. In seeking that explanation, any wish to embarrass his majesty's government was most foreign from his mind. He had given this subject a great deal of attention, he had bestowed much time on it, and called to his assistance persons experienced in the knowledge of that department to which these Orders referred, yet he professed to God, that he was still totally unable to ascertain their nature or drift, much less to divine the remotest possibility of interest or advantage likely to accrue to this country from their adoption. Notwithstanding the unintelligible mariner in which these Orders appeared to him, he was still unable to suppress great and powerful feelings of alarm. He shuddered at the state of policy upon which this country was proceeding to act. Neither could he hide from his contemplation the danger of that precipice, to the verge of which it was so lamentably and so rapidly advancing. What was the ultimate object of the new commercial code, seemingly established by the joint consent of the governments of France and Great Britain? It was mutual destruction. It resembled the efforts of a set of persons, whose chief object was to starve each other, and who, to obtain their respective gratification, were all pursuing the means of insuring the inevitable starvation of themselves. Such conduct could only be compared to the insanity or 151 maniacs, who cutting each other with knives across the veins, disregarded the positive injury that each individually received, and were only satisfied in consummating the destruction of them all. This was a dreadful state of things, and required on the part of their lordships, the utmost circumspection, before they gave their concurrence to the measures which tended to promote it. For his part, although the encouragement came from the most dignified and exalted source, he could not so far, in compliance with it, look upon the dangers of the country, either unappalled or undismayed. The news of that day, as connected with our relations with America, was replete with melancholy reflections. It was to him the source of very deep regret, stronger than he had, in the course of his political life, on any previous event, ever felt. He had still the personal gratification to review the line of conduct which he, and those with whom he had acted, had made it their duty to adopt towards America: conduct, that if persisted in, would have produced between those two countries the strongest bonds of friendship and alliance, without any surrender of the rights or any compromise of the honour and character of Great Britain. He again impressed upon ministers the necessity of an explicit and prompt avowal of the objects and meaning of these documents. In order to understand them, it was, in his opinion, absolutely necessary that a copy of the Declaration, signed by himself, and a noble friend of his (lord Holland) as plenipotentiaries of the British government., on the 21st of Dec. 1806, and handed by them to the plenipotentiaries of the United States, should be produced for the consideration of that house. These Orders in Council arose from, and were actually founded upon, that Declaration. Indeed, there was another document, the source and origin of all the subsequent regulations; but he was at present at a loss to know in what way or form such a paper could be introduced before their lordships, he meant the Decree of the French Government, dated the 7th of Nov. 1806. Previous to his offering any motion for those papers, particularly for the copy of the Declaration of the 21st of Dec. 1806, he wished to hear from the noble secretary of state, whether he had any objections to their production, and if so, what they were?
§ Lord Hawkesbury
assured his noble friend, that it was the wish of his majesty's 152 government to afford to parliament the fullest information, consistent with their public duties, and to submit the whole of those Orders and regulations to the most ample and accurate discussion. In what way, or by the adoption of what proceeding, in the present stage of that subject, he was not prepared to propose. It had occurred to him, that as those papers were presented in another place, and were likely to be put in such a train of procedure as must in due time be submitted for the consideration of their loodships, the most desirable mode was, to await that period, under the probable hope, that the most beneficial effects would arise from suspending the discussion until brought forward in that shape, when if approved, their passing into law would immediately follow the discussion. However, it was competent for the noble lords on the opposite side to institute any other proceeding more compatible with their view of the case, and calculated to produce that investigation from which neither he nor his colleagues were in any degree inclined to shrink. With respect to the question put to him by his noble friend, he could only say, that the objection he felt to the production of the papers alluded to, arose solely out of considerations of form. The Declaration of the 21st Dec. had been the subject of much observation. It was much spoken of in public, and had experienced a good deal of notoriety, but as it was an appendix to a treaty never laid before that house, it was, in his view, out of the course of all form to produce it in a separate character. Not less so was the French Decree: government had got it in a way which all late administrations had considered official. It was received by them, inserted in a paper which stated itself to be the official register of the edicts of that government, namely, the Moniteur. At the same time, he could not see in what manner such a document could be brought before parliament. At all events, he was willing, with the consent of the noble lord, to suspend his ultimate answer for a short period, until he considered more maturely the grounds of the objections which then presented themselves to his mind.
thought, that though there was no official copy of the French Decree, yet that there might be some document received officially, from the minister of a neutral power containing, art explanation given by the French govern- 153 ment, as to the objects of its Decree, and the intended mode of carrying it into effect. He wished to know whether there existed such a document?
§ Earl Bathurst
said, there was no official communication upon this subject. He denied that the Orders in Council would have the effect inferred by the noble lord (Auckland), or had any such tendency.
§ Lord Grenville
said, that what had been urged by the noble earl was an additional reason why further information should be laid before the house. He was not wholly unversed in such subject, but with all the attention he could give them, he could not thoroughly understand their meaning or object. It could not be supposed that it was the object of those who framed them totally to destroy the commerce of this country, and yet, on reading over the Orders it would be difficult to discover that any other effect could be produced from them than the total destruction of that commerce. Were they to understand that, with a subject of this immense magnitude before them, they were to wait for three or four weeks until they received their lesson from the other house, before they obtained any further information, and before ministers explained to that house what their intentions and views were in advising the issuing of such orders? Were they to understand that ministers, after advising Orders in Council, which were a violation of the law of the land; after giving advice to the crown, which no ministers had ventured to give since the reign of James II.; when that monarch was advised that he had a power to dispense with the laws of the country; after doing what was a gross and flagrant violation of the law of nations, and of the municipal law; were they to understand that ministers did not intend to come to parliament for indemnity, or to explain the motives and reasons of their conduct? He thought that not an instant should be lost in obtaining full information and coming to the discussion of the measure.
§ Lord Hawkesbury
said, that there might have been, in some instances, connected with the Orders in Council, a literal violation of law, but the Orders themselves in their great object and views, were neither a violation of the law of nations, nor the municipal law of the land. As to any question of indemnity, if any should be thought necessary, the reasons for asking it would be stated at the time of proposing it. It was, however, competent to any 154 noble lord to bring forward a question upon the subject, which would be met by his majesty's ministers.
thought the noble lord had treated very lightly the idea of a violation of the law. He repeated his question with respect to the existence of any document of the nature he before alluded to, observing that it was understood some explanation of the French decree had been given to general Armstrong, the American minister at Paris.—No answer being given,
§ Lord Grenville
urged the same question, and asked whether it was to be understood that ministers refused to give any information upon this point?
§ Lord Hawkesbury
said, that no official communication had been received in the shape alluded to by the noble lord.—The intended motion of lord Auckland, for papers, was then withdrawn.