HL Deb 08 February 1810 vol 15 cc345-8
Earl Bathurst

, agreeably to the statements contained in his Majesty's Speech on the first day of the session, presented certain Papers relative to the commercial prosperity of the country, consisting of Accounts of the amount of its Exports and Imports for the last two or three years. The noble earl, in laying these papers upon the table, took the opportunity of giving a general statement of the trade of the country for the three quarters ending the 10th October, 1809, compared with the corresponding period of preceding years. The accounts of the fourth quarter, ending the 5th of January, he had not yet been able to obtain with sufficient accuracy. With respect to the three quarters ending the 10th October, 1809, our exports during that period amounted to 39 million. During the corresponding period in 1807, they were 29 million, and in 1808, 25 million. In 1806, which was reckoned a year of the greatest commercial prosperity, they amounted to 36 million. Our imports during the similar period in 1809 were, 22 million; in 1808, 17 million; 1807, 19 million. After dwelling upon the superior prosperity of our commerce during the last year, his lordship adverted to the arguments which had formerly been used by some noble lords as to the injury which would result to our commerce from our disputes with America, and observed, that the result had shown the fallacy of those arguments; for though some decrease had taken place in our trade with the United States, our commerce with the other parts of America had greatly increased. Thus instead of our exports to America, amounting to 20 million, including 12 million to the United States, they now amounted to 25 million, including 7 million to the United States. On the subject of cotton wool also, the fears entertained had proved groundless. A considerable supply of that article had been obtained from other parts of America, and might also be procured from the East Indies, two ships having arrived from thence with cotton wool, the produce of which rendered it a profitable speculation to those who imported it. After recapitulating the prosperous state of our American commerce, his lordship defended the firm and wise policy by which that prosperity had been secured, a policy which suggested to his Majesty's ministers, that it was not their duty to be impeded or biassed by the influence of either threats or intrigues, by the hostility of France, whether openly declared and exercised in Europe, or insidiously at work against us in America.

Lord Grenville

rose, for the purpose of submitting to their lordships consideration some remarks upon the observations made by his noble friend, and also upon the papers, which had just been laid upon their lordships' table. It was not only surprising but it was a species of conduct of which no example was any where to be found but amongst his Majesty's pre- sent ministers, that papers of such importance, should be laid upon their table, and a commercial question of such magnitude and detail should be brought into discussion without any previous notice. However, if it was not the noble earl's intention to move that the papers mentioned be printed; he should think it a duty incumbent upon him to make that motion himself. Did the noble earl, under all the calamity and disgrace brought upon the country by the ignorant and absurd measures of the administration, think it necessary to encourage the country to resist the power of France? Why there was not a man in whose breast the heart of an Englishman could be found to beat, who could ever entertain a doubt on the subject. God forbid that England should ever entertain the question, whether she should resolutely maintain her power, or sink beneath the power of France. As to the trade of the country, he was as much convinced as any man could be, that it was, in regard to our internal situation, increasing in prosperity. We had no occasion to be told that such prosperity was owing to our happy laws and constitution, and the industry of our people: the reason was an obvious one, and not more true than it was universally felt and acknowledged. But this prosperous increase of trade, so much, and so triumphantly spoken of by the noble earl this evening, was not to he taken as resulting from the measures of that blind policy adopted by noble lords opposite. It was a prosperity arising from the extended commercial genius of the country, from the benignant influence of our happy constitution, and the unexampled industry of our population; and happy for us it was so, because we thereby saw that our commerce could flourish in spite of the barriers opposed to it by the frail, imbecile, and mad proceedings of those who framed the Orders in Council. It would be useless at this time to enter into the detailed accounts given by the noble earl, for it was impossible for him to carry in his head all the numbers, sums, and figures mentioned, and as much so for those who heard him. But what did all this superficial and unsatisfactory statement of accounts amount to? Did it shew that our commerce had increased, because of its restrictions? The whole amounted to this and to this only, that, in consequence of the political situation of Spain, the Spanish colonies of America had been laid open to our merchants; and, although we had lost our trade with the United States, this new intercourse, arising from an independent and distinct cause, had given it considerable increase. But, perhaps, were we rightly to estimate the consequence of these colonies being suddenly opened, upon the decrease of our trade to the United States, when there was a general effort to supply the market to an overflow, it might be a most damning proof of the injury which our commerce had sustained by means of the conduct of administration. He would ever maintain, that all legislative interference with the interests of commerce must invariably produce injurious consequences; but no legal fetters were so galling to commercial success, as those to which he alluded. If it was intended that trade should flourish, we ought to have it open and free to flow in its own course. Commercial policy, in these days, was better understood than heretofore; we ought not now to talk of - the balance of trade, a doctrine so antiquated, and so proscribed by all men of enlightened views, that it was only fit for dark ages, and ought to be exploded by the philosophy of modern governments. So long as the Orders in Council were acted upon, so long they were found to be destructive to trade; and even their lordships, who were called upon, as friends of the ministers, to sanction the measure, as one of the soundest policy, soon afterwards had an opportunity of seeing those ministers themselves abandon that system. The result was, the moment a partial relaxation was adopted, the commerce of the country was benefited in the same proportion.