§ Sir Charles Price
said, that, though he did not expect to make much impression upon, ministers, he yet thought it necessary to take this last opportunity of re-stating his objections to the bill. He regretted much the thin attendance in the house, when a subject of such great importance was discussed, and thought it unbecoming to push on the bill at so late a period of the session, and in so thin a house. From all his communications with West India merchants and planters, and those engaged in the trade with Canada, and also with the ship owners of this country, he thought the present bill hostile to the interests of our commerce. He had been informed by American merchants, that not less than one-third, and even one-half of the sailors navigating American ships, were British-born subjects. The present, therefore, was not the time to discourage our shipping and navigation interests, and to drive still more of our seamen into the American service. For some time after the first suspension of the navigation laws in 1793, the vessels and ship owners were fully employed as transports, so that sufficient encouragement was given to the navigation of the country; but since this resource had ceased, the shipping interest had declined; and he could state that, in 1802, there were not less than 100 of these ships with a broom at the masthead, which fully sheaved the distressed situation of the ship owners. On these, and various grounds, he moved, that, instead of the word "now," the words "this day three months" be inserted in the motion.
§ Mr. Brodrick
seconded the amendment, and characterised the bill as unjust, unreasonable, and impolitic.
Mr. S. Bourne
deprecated the passing of a bill which went to suspend the navigation laws of the country, in so thin a house, and at so late a period of the session. He then took a general view of the arguments for and against the bill; and contended that the discretionary power of suspending the navigation laws was best vested in the different West India governors, the meanest of whom had more local and immediate knowledge than ministers could possess, even with all that superior ability and information which they had as- 970 cribed to themselves. The bill, he observed, had now been two months before the house, and yet, during all that period, ministers had refused a delay of four days for receiving evidence in the committee, against the bill. Not even a road bill was denied an advantage of this nature; and yet it had been refused in the case of a bill affecting the most important interests of the country. It allowed the exportation of West India produce in Amer can bottoms to all parts of the world, this country excepted, and thus; effectually discouraged the navigation interests of this country, He contended that a right hon. sec. I had been guilty of a gross violation of the law, in acting up to the provisions of the present bill, while it was not in existence, by suspending the operation of the navigation laws. He then took a view of its effects on the shipping interest, and on our North American colonies, which were nearly able to supply lumber and provisions to our West India islands. The ultimate tendency of the bill would be to place this country in a state of dependence on the states of America, with whom we were not, indeed, in a state of war, but who seemed to have forgot every feeling of amity towards this country. It was not, indeed, likely that we should ever quarrel with them, if those principles were acted upon which were supported in publications coming from the Ministerial presses, and which went to allow them all those demands which they claimed.
§ Mr. Mainwaring
declared that he considered the silence of the gentlemen opposite as an insult to the house. He was sorry he could not call it the first insult they had thus offered. He had come down to the house merely to give a silent vote against the measure, and should not have thus commented on the conduct of the men by whom it had been brought forward, had not their conduct forced front him the observation which he had, just made. He then repeated the arguments that had been adduced against the bill, and hoped, for the sake of common decorum, that his majesty's ministers would not persevere in the line of conduct which they had that evening adopted.
§ Sir W. Young
defended the letter which had been alluded to by an hon. gent. (Mr. S. Bourne); that letter contained an exception which rendered it very dif- 971 ferent from what it had been stated to be. The question before the house was very narrow, and by no means required the extensive discussion into which those who opposed it seemed inclined to enter. Confining himself to those points which were really connected with the subject, he contended that the shipping interest would by no means be injured in the way in which it seemed to be apprehended that it might. In time of war it was politic to suspend the navigation act to a certain degree. Such for instance was the permission to British merchant ships to be manned in a great proportion, by foreign seamen. The bill was merely for a limited time to give a power to the privy council, which in his opinion they ought, to possess. He would advise the West India planters, not altogether to rely on the promises of those who professed that they should always be enabled to supply them. If they did, he feared famine would frequently be the consequence.
§ Sir W. Curtis
objected to the principle of the bill, and that power should be rested in any one to suspend the Navigation Laws. He insisted that our own North American colonies, Canada, Halifax, New Brunswick, &c. were adequate to supply the West India islands, without depending on any speculations whatever. He should therefore vote in favour of his hon. colleague's amendment.
§ Lord De Blaquiere
considered the present bill as affording but a slender proof of that extensive understanding, and those distinguished talents which ministers had been supposed to engross. He would ask gentlemen, and young gentlemen in particular, if this was a time to prostrate themselves to America, when that country had done every thing but spit in their faces. There appeared in ministers, a superabundance of ingenuity, but a great want of good sense. He considered the present bill as another display of their disposition to introduce wanton innovations into the established system of the country.
said, it was incorrectly stated that the supporters of this bill had prevented the petitioners from being heard by council: the opposition to this indulgence was given by the other side of the house. Neither was it just to assume, that because our commercial ma- 972 rine had been reduced, the trade of the country was diminished. The increase of a hostile navy necessarily involved the lessening of the former, but the augmentation of the commerce of the nation had kept pace with the wishes of every friend to the success of the British nation. It was confidently asserted, that our merchants could supply our West India colonies so completely, as to render all extraneous aid useless. He was sorry to observe, that the very first dispatches from sir Eyre Coote gave a very different representation of the circumstances of the islands. Under date of the 6th of March last, that officer wrote to extend the time of importation of articles of subsistence, particularly fish, until October. The truth was, that addresses were pouring in from every quarter, indicative of the existing necessity, and he trusted gentlemen would no longer deny what was so obvious and palpable.
Lord Castlereagh rose
and spoke as follows:—Sir, I cannot permit this bill to be read a third time, without stating the strong objections I feel both to its principle and its provisions. In proportion as both have been discussed, my repugnance to both has increased. Indeed it is impossible to compare the futility of the professed object, with a view to which this bill is introduced, with the extent and nature of the powers it confers, without feeling an alarm, that it is really intended for other and more serious purposes than those which have been announced.—It is said, that nothing more is intended by its framers, than that which has hitherto been done in breach of law, and of the oaths under which his majesty's governors act, should hereafter be done regularly, and in conformity to law. But if nothing more was really meant, than that the British West India islands, in cases of an adequate necessity, should hereafter receive supplies of provisions and lumber from America, as they have heretofore done, even in American bottoms, why propose a law to enable the privy council to permit the importation into our colonies, not only of previsions and lumber from America, but of every description of produce, even manufactures, as the bill was first introduced, from every state in amity with the king? And further, why permit the unlimited export in return of all articles of colonial produce to any such states, thereby at 973 once giving to the king's ministers a power not only to suspend the navigation laws, but to abrogate totally our Colonial system?—When this measure was before under consideration, I endeavoured to expose the false pretences upon which it proceeded, and to point out its total inefficiency when viewed in its more limited character, namely, that of placing this qualified intercourse upon a more regular footing, to answer even the purposes for which it was professedly introduced. If it was really intended that the governors abroad, in opening the ports, should act not upon their own immediate judgment, as applied upon the spot to circumstances of local necessity, but upon instructions previously obtained from home, as those instructions must be in their nature of a general and permanent description, and not arising out of any temporary exigency, why have not ministers declared what their intended system in respect to the islands is to be, and applied to parliament for the powers absolutely requisite for carrying the same into effect, before they call upon us thus blindly to intrust the whole to their discretion? But if the only instructions that can, or at least ought to be given, are those of his majesty's late ministers, viz. directing the governors to enforce strictly the salutary regulations of the existing laws, except in cases of real emergency, how can it be pretended that his majesty in council can ever here judge either of the circumstances or the time when such a pressure exists in any of our West India islands, as to render a temporary relaxation necessary? This bill cannot then alter either the nature of the discretion, or the hands in which its exercise must practically rest. The West India governors must decide when the ports are to be opened, as they have always done, unless the king's ministers are prepared to say they shall be constantly open with or without necessity: and if not, the question then is, whether a discretion to open them when requisite, is most likely to be prudently exercised when it is used under the impression of subsequent controul, and indemnity: or under a previous authority given, enabling the governors lawfully to suspend the navigation laws at their will and pleasure, without being subsequently amenable to parliament, as well as the crown, for their conduct? The effect of such a bill can on- 974 ly be unconstitutionally to transfer from parliament, hereafter, to ministers, the power of granting indemnity, and watching over the conservation of this fundamental law.—But if this measure, in the limited sense I have hitherto considered it, is not sustainable, or the motive for its introduction intelligible, it assumes a much more serious shape, when viewed in its true and more enlarged sense, as manifesting. I fear, a general relaxation of opinion on the policy of our navigation system, and mixed with, perhaps, a disposition at the expence of that fundamental law, unwisely, to court and conciliate the government of America at the present moment.—I lament the absence of art. hon. secretary of state on this occasion, not only from the cause which has unfortunately occasioned it, but from the desire libel to hear him redeem the pledge he gave on a former night, namely, that he should be prepared to prove, not only that the measure was pregnant with none of the bad consequences imputed to it, but that the powers proposed to be granted to the privy council were borne out by a variety of precedents, and particularly by the acts which were passed between the years 1783 and 1791, authorizing the king in council to regulate the commerce with America. A further sanction was quoted for the bill before us, by a learned member (Dr. Laurence) from the Dutch property acts, in the last war, and the bills enabling the privy council to regulate the trade with the Cape of Good Hope.—And first, as to the two acts of 1795, the object and the provisions of which were confined to protecting the property of the loyal subjects of the United Provinces, viz. allowing it to be imported into this country, on certain conditions. The principle of those acts was extended in 1796, to vessels belonging to any person in amity with his majesty; of which, however, the benefit was taken (as was foreseen) chiefly by ships from the states of America and the foreign West Indies.—A slight examination of the grounds on which these acts there passed, whether wisely or unwisely is not now the question, will shew that no considerable sacrifice was made thereby of our navigation system; and that the colonial system was not affected thereby. They were founded altogether on considerations of temporary commercial policy. The preamble of the act of 1796 declared, "that 975 under the special circumstances of the commerce of Europe, and particularly for that of the United Provinces, it will be for the benefit of the commerce of this kingdom to continue to allow for a further time to be limited, such ships and vessels described in the former act as may not chase to return to the ports of the United Provinces; and also any other ships and vessels belonging to per-sons of any country in amity with his Majesty, which are in search of a place of deposit, to land their goods under certain restrictions." This law was principally intended to permit a qualified intercourse, during war, with the enemy's colonies, which could only take place in neutral vessels. Assuming then the propriety, in the then state of Europe, of making this country an entrepot for the colonial produce of our enemies, it could be effected in no other mariner. It was necessary to relax the letter of the navigation act to favour this intercourse, so far as it prohibits import, except in British vessels, or in those of the state from whence the goods came; but there was, in truth, then no substantial sacrifice of our shipping interest; it was rather a temporary sacrifice of our belligerent rights from motives of commercial convenience, and our colonial interests were at the same time protected by the foreign produce thus admitted being only permitted to be warehoused for exportation.—The case of the Cape of Good Hope is as little in point. It stands on a principle frequently acted upon, where there has been reason to presume, that a possession newly acquired might materially suffer, if our commercial system was at once applied to it in its utmost strictness; that of giving to the king in council a power for a time to regulate its trade. But the present case is not a discretion to adopt our system for a time to a new colony, but a power to subvert at once the whole system with respect to all our old and established colonies. It is said, but why do you suspect that such will be the effect of it? Is it possible to suppose that ministers will so use these powers? Or is there any reason to believe they will in fact authorize any greater infraction of the system than has latterly taken place? The answer to all this is, if so, why pass the bill? Is it not an insult to their understandings to suppose that they take all this trouble 976 to accomplish what experience has shewn the necessity of the case in itself effects, without such interference? And why, if ministers really mean to do no more than what has hitherto been done, do they come to parliament to ask for powers to do that which never has been done, and which they declare they do not mean to attempt? And why is parliament to be called on to adopt this new and most unconstitutional system of legislation, of granting excessive powers to ministers, who either cannot or will not satisfactorily explain for what purposes they are wanted, or to what purposes they mean to apply them? Such was the case in the Chelsea bill, such is to be the case in the training and other bills to which we are called upon to give our assent. To such a course of proceeding I must, on every principle, object, and I certainly have seen nothing in the mode in which his majesty's present ministers conduct public business, which, either in point of efficiency or discretion, is calculated to command any very peculiar confidence.—The bills which passed immediately after the peace of 1783, and which were alluded to by the rt. hon. secretary of state, (Mr. Fox) afford as little countenance to the present measure. They took place immediately on the separation of the American colonies. It is not to be wondered at that in the moment of such a convulsion, and when the supreme power of regulating all commercial concerns rested on the separate legislatures of the respective American states, that parliament should, for a time, entrust the privy council, under circumstances so new and anomalous, with the regulation of our intercourse with America, and accordingly a bill was passed to this effect, but it was only, an annual act, not for an indefinite period like the present, and it was discontinued with the necessity on which it was founded.—But even whilst these acts were in force, and whilst the power to regulate the trade was in the privy council, by proclamation, the intercourse between America and the West Indies was, as early as Dec. 1783, confined to British ships, and so it continued till 1788, when an act passed for the regulation of that intercourse.—It is material to compare the provisions of this act, viz. the 28 Geo. III. cap. 6, with the bill now proposed; the latter enables the privy council to open the colonial ports 977 to importation of every description of produce without reserve, from all states in amity, to the prejudice of the supply from the mother country. The former permitted import from America alone, and that was confined to certain enumerated articles, the principal of which were lumber, live-stock, and grain.—The present bill permits an unrestrained export of colonial produce to neutral states; the former confined it to goods not then prohibited by law to be exported to America, and to certain specified articles in addition; but the intercourse was in all cases to be carried on by British subjects and in British ships.—So jealous was the legislature at that time of any infraction of our navigation system, that in making provision for admitting the like articles from the foreign islands in the West Indies, in cases of peculiar emergency and distress, the permission to import was strictly confined in like manner to British subjects and British ships, and the discretion to judge of the degree of emergency was specially vested in the governors, with the advice of their respective councils, and not in the privy council at home; and so also with respect to supplies from the United States to Nova Scotia.—This system was not established without full deliberation. In 1784 it was complained of by the colonies, and their petitions containing precisely the same allegations which are now brought forward by those who contend that our islands cannot otherwise be supplied, underwent a full examination before the committee of trade, as they did a second time in 1791, when they were dismissed upon reasons stated in two elaborate reports, as wholly unfounded.—But the fallacy of these remonstrances did not rest solely upon the reasoning, however conclusive, stated in those reports, it was satisfactorily established by an experience of not less than ten years, viz. between 1783 and 1793; during all which time the islands were never more abundantly. and cheaply supplied; under which prudent system our navigation singularly flourished. The British vessels belonging to the islands alone had increased in 1791 to 935 ships, 110,900 tons, and 6567 seamen; the number has since materially declined, being reduced in 1804 to 167 ships, 19,535 tons, and 1860 men.—It probably will be said all this reason- 978 ing applies to a period of peace, and proves nothing as to the present question, viz. the practicability of securing an abundant supply for our islands under similar regulations in time of war. War certainly, if adequate convoys cannot be supplied, may afford to neutrals a greater comparative facility in carrying on this intercourse; but I am sure, in the present state of our naval superiority, it cannot be alleged that any difficulty can arise in giving complete protection to British ships passing between the islands and the continent. Whatever might have formerly been apprehended from the naval power of our enemies, it cannot now be beyond the reach of our navy to cover this important branch of British commerce against the depredations of privateers, there being rarely an instance of any of the enemy's regular ships of war venturing to shew themselves in those seas. It is only on an assumption that due protection cannot be afforded, or that if afforded, merchants cannot be found to carry on the intercourse in British ships, that any distinction in the argument can be maintained on the fact of war. That the former cannot now be an impediment the noble lord of the head of the navy will, I am sure, be the first to admit; and that there are persons of the utmost respectability ready to engage in this trade, if they are only assured of the protection of the existing laws, my right hon. friend (Mr. Rose), has from their own authority been enabled to assert, and was prepared to prove if all enquiry had not been refused. I am the more anxious to impress on the minds of the house, that in truth the question stands at this present moment, for the reasons above stated, on the same grounds practically as if we were at peace, and that unless they are prepared to go the monstrous length which the right hon. secretary (Mr. Fox), has done, namely to doubt whether the British colonies can be supplied even in time of peace, not only without a relaxation of the colonial but of the navigation systems: they would do well to take their stand here, and require his majesty's ministers and the planters, who may, from a confined view of their own separate interests, be disposed to press forward this measure, to make out, which they have on former occasions completely failed to do, an adequate case of necessity 979 for such a breach of system, before the house will consent thus to lay the foundation of rendering our West India islands dependant in peace as well as in war, on America for their supplies, and before they will proceed thus permanently to divest the owners of British shipping of the rights long assured to them under the existing laws.—But it is said, can any one doubt of the necessity of continuing this intercourse at least in time of war, after the experience we have had of its being practised with little interruption, both throughout the last and present wars? With respect to the commercial and maritime principles acted upon in the course of the last war, however highly I respect the authority of those who then directed our councils, and however generally wise I believe them to have been, I certainly should deprecate their being considered of universal application, or such as ought to be acted upon in all cases. Our commercial as well as our political relations at that time underwent a great convulsion; the degree to which all the social relations of Europe were then shaken; the attempts that were made to protect the interests of those who were attached to the ancient governments both of France and Holland, notwithstanding the hostilities we were then carrying on against those states: the efforts made to introduce our manufactures both into the countries with which we were at war, and also into their colonies, and the object we had in such a contest to concilitate neutrals by every possible forbearance, and every sacrifice on our part; certainly at that period occasioned, and perhaps justified, great relaxation of system. It is not to be wondered at, if, upon perhaps a hasty and superficial view of the case, new indulgences should at that time, at the instance of the planters, be also granted to the colonies, namely, that of receiving for the first time supplies in American bottoms; but we have abundant grounds to warrant us in not considering the practices which prevailed in that war, as what even those who then advised them deemed such as ought to be rendered permanent. With respect to our colonies, the correspondence since Mr. Pitt's last return to power will prove, that his unremitting endeavours were directed to restrict the intercourse between America and the West India islands within the narrowest 980 possible limits: he had succeeded in confining the supply to lumber, and corn provisions; and these only were permitted to be brought in under the authority of special proclamations to be issued from time to time, and to be in force only for a limited period; but he had determined steadily to resist in future any competition with the mother country, or her North American colonies, in either fish or salted provisions. He had also latterly turned his attention, after the decisive successes of our fleets had opened to us the prospect of being able fully to protect our commerce in all parts of the world, to an early recurrence to the principles of the 28th of the king, and would, I have no doubt, if his life had been spared, soon have confined whatever intercourse was permitted to take place, to British subjects and British ships as formerly; a regulation not more called for in deference to the shipping interest of Great Britain, than required to put an end to that system of smuggling into our colonies which now prevails to an enormous extent, particularly of East India goods, and which must continue to prevail so long as America ships are permitted to frequent our islands.— That the practice of the last war is not to be considered as conclusive in all cases may be further proved from the mortifications, which the orders in council of that period underwent at the commencement of the present war, relative to neutrals trading to the enemy's colonies. I am the more inclined to advert to this point from the conviction I feel, that the orders in question yet require to be very considerably further modified and restricted. The extent to which our belligerent rights are now systematically invaded, the facility afforded to the enemy by abusing our liberality towards neutral powers, to cover his own commerce, and to turn his whole maritime strength against us in war, and the cruel situation in which those employed in the naval service of the country are placed, when, by the artful and unprincipled practices of neutralizing merchants, they are not only deprived of almost all prospect of prize, but exposed to be ruined by litigation if they venture to detain the ships engaged in this illicit traffic, makes me peculiarly anxious to protest against any conclusive inference being drawn in favour of this or 981 any other system, merely from its having generally prevailed throughout the period of the last war; and I urge this consideration with the more anxiety on the present occasion, from the extent to which it is understood America is disposed at this moment to push her claims on this score, in opposition to the undoubted maritime rights of this country. From the harsh and unconciliating manner in which she apparently has endeavoured to support those claims, and from the knowledge we have, that this vital question is on the point of being discussed by his majesty's ministers with the government of the United States, than which certainly a more important discussion never devolved upon any government, we are to hope they will conduct it with all the temper and friendship, which is due to a state with whose prosperity our true interests are so inseparable united; but with that resolution and inflexible firmness, With which it is their duty to defend rights, the maintenance of which is indispensable to our preservation as a maritime state, whilst America, in pressing their abandonment, can only plead a commercial interest of a very subordinate kind, unsupported by any colour of justice whatever.—If the necessity or expediency of this bill cannot then be made out when its application is reasoned on in its more limited sense, and if its enactment in the more enlarged meaning which the wording of the bill justifies us in applying to it, cannot be reconciled with any sound view which can be taken either of former regulations or our general interests, I wish to warn the house of the value and importance of those principles, which this measure in its most comprehensive character goes to shake. I am led the rather to do so, as I have understood that language has been held with respect to our navigation laws, by persons of great authority in another place, which fills me with considerable alarm. I have heard they have been spoken of as laws rather suited to the former situation, than to the present circumstances of this country, and I cannot but forebode from such sentiments, explained by such bills, and illustrated by such practical opinions as have been stated by a secretary of state is this house, that if there exists not in the present government a deliberate purpose to violate, there at least exists a great in- 982 difference to uphold the fundamental principles upon which those ancient aws were founded.—I know it has been the fashion in modern times to deny its restrictions upon commerce. The economists laugh at the notion of compelling your commerce to be carried in native shipping, if it can be carried by the shipping of other stares on better terms. But those who have attentively studied the rise of this nation into greatness and security, will not hesitate to attribute it, under Providence, to its early add provident determ[...]mation to carry forward its means of strength and power, with all those circumstances of wealth and splendour which must ever have the effect of exciting jealousy and creating enemies. It has been the policy of those laws to require our commerce and our marine to grow up together. This principle of wholesome restraint has caused them to rise and flourish together, and they have alternately, as cause and effect, perhaps, accelerated each other's progress. To say that no circumstances can ever justify a partial and temporary relaxation of those laws would be absurd; but in proportion as the growth of any marked disproportion between the trade and the shipping of the country must render an adherence to them difficult, and perhaps a recurrence to them impossible if once fallen into disuse, I do consider it of the first importance to watch with the utmost jealousy, and to mark with the strongest disapprobation, any thing which seems to bear so much the appearance of an unnecessary, precipitate, wanton, and apparently systematic infringement of those laws as the present measure does.—The house will recollect the efforts made by the French government at several periods of its history during the monarchy, to incorporate the principle of our navigation laws into their system. The ministers of France perceived to what cause the naval greatness of Britain was in fact assignable; they wished to imitate it, but happily they had postponed the attempt too long. Their commerce had long taken the start of their shipping: they could no longer make their trade the instrument of forcing forward their commercial marine without a early extinguishing the trade itself: and they were obliged, after several fruitless efforts, wholly to abandon the attempt. This ought to make us cautious how we trifle 983 with this important system, for purposes of small and speculative commerce. If, as there is but too much reason to apprehend, there is some tendency at present in the shipping of the country to advance less rapidly than our trade; let us avoid aggravating this evil. The necessity for relaxation of the law on the score of commercial Convenience must, if this defect in our system continues, be increased, whilst the danger of yielding them will be augmented also. Our trade under a moderate restraint may, and will speedily, relieve itself by forcing capital into the means of its own accommodation; but if the want of shipping is once suffered to prevail beyond a certain extent, the demand can no longer without great national loss await the supply. The barrier will then be thrown down which now protects our commercial marine, and from that moment America and other countries that can build and equip cheaper than we do, Will possess themselves largely of our carrying trade; ship-building in this country will cease to be a profitable application of capital; our seamen will decline in number; and many even of those we have will pass, particularly in war, into the service of America.—I know doubts have been entertained whether our shipping can be equal in time of war, when so large a proportion of our seamen are withdrawn from the merchants and employed in the king's service, to accommodate us in peace: the trade of the country, I am inclined to think, considering the proportion of landsmen in the navy, and the powers of re-production we possess, whilst the demand for seamen is kept up, that little difficulty will occur in this respect; but I am persuaded our means must always be abundant, for at least supplying our own colonial trade in all its branches, into which no foreign ships ought to be admitted, no more than into our coasting trade, or transport service. Whatever temporary deficiency there may exist of British shipping, it will adjust itself in the increased share of the carrying trade other nations will for the time enjoy in our intercourse with them respectively, as authorized by the navigation act itself. But so far from encouraging imaginary cases of exigency, we ought to recollect that some degree of pressure is the first and most active principle of encouragement to the augmentation of our ships and sea. 984 men, upon where concurrent growth with our general trade must ultimately depend the station we are to occupy in the scale of nations.—I cannot omit also observing that the continuance of this system of taking our supplies from America without affording to the produce of our North American colonies the protection even of duties, most not only operate to repress their growth and improvement, but must rapidly tend to make our West India islands permanently dependant for these important articles on the government of the United States. In the absence of all discriminating duties, such as our commercial policy has always led to the adoption of at home, between British and foreign produce, the local situation of the United States must give the Americans great advantages in the market of the West Indies over our more northern follow-Subjects, and we accordingly find whilst the British American provinces were rapidly advancing to a state that would have enabled them to supply our islands with most of the articles of which they stand in need, yet, from want of due encouragement, the quantity actually imported from thence since 1792 has latterly diminished not less than two-thirds. Such is the extent and nature of the measure which we are now called upon to pass without inquiry, in this most exceptionable shape. It goes materially to affect the interests of the Ship-owners throughout the empire, of the British continental colonists, of the fisheries of the empire—of Ireland, as largely dependant on the provision trade—of various classes of British manufacturers, and of the East India company, all of whom begin seriously to feel the destructive effects of the smuggling competition which, grows out of this intercourse, as against them in the West India Islands. Yet although the utmost alarm has been expressed by the parties interested, and they have come forward to the house with petitions desiring to be heard, and prepared to disprove the main facts upon which the expediency of the bill has been maintained, they have been refused, contrary to all precedent, even a committee above stairs;. though my rt. hon. friend (Mr. Rose) pledged himself that four days Would suffice for bringing forward all the material information, and that the progress of the bill need not be thereby delayed. The Petitioners under 985 these circumstances thought it in vain to appear by counsel at the bar, if they were denied the opportunity of previously establishing their case by evidence; and they have now to complain, in addition to the injurious effects of the measure itself upon their fortunes, of a very different reception from that which persons of their weight and respectability have ever been formerly accustomed to receive from this house. I have little further to add to what I have already stated. I cannot, however, conclude without saying, that any objections to the measure now under consideration are much increased, and indeed my apprehensions augmented, when I advert not only to the time, but to the circumstances under which it has been brought forward: the proposing to parliament so idle and so nugatory a measure as this indisputably is, if its proposers truly describe it at a moment when we have a point of such great importance to settle with America, does appear to me, to say the least of it, a great oversight. But I cannot forget that this bill, or one of similar import, first made its appearance in another house of parliament, immediately after the publication of an "Enquiry into the State of the Nation," a pamphlet which it is understood was circulated under the particular countenance and protection of the noble lord (lord Holland) who first brought in this bill. Much of the pamphlet in question is occupied in considering the pending question with America, and in councelling the unqualifled surrender to that country of every thing she is supposed to have laid claim to. This, together with a most desponding estimate of the power and resources of the country, concluding with a pretty distinct intimation that our only chance of holding even a secondary place in the scale of Europe is our concluding an immediate peace with France on the best terms we can, are the only two practical conclusions to be found in a work of some talent, which is principally engrossed in a general misstatement of the measures, and consequently of the conduct of the former government. If such is to be taken as in any degree the standard of the noble lord's own opinions, and if it is in the spirit of such doctrine, that he was induced to offer this bill to parliament, those who differ with him in sentiment have ample, grounds for apprehension at the present moment. The noble lord does not certainly hold a 986 seat in his majesty's councils, but that is not sufficient to relieve my mind from the anxiety of observing a bill of this nature proceed from a persons so high in confidence, entitled to great personal weight and respect, and whom we have reason to presume entertains sentiments of the description above stated. I wish, if ministers do not mean to use this bill for the unwise and mischievous purposes to which its powers may be applied, that they would, at least for the present, calm the public apprehensions, by relinquishing it and suffer matters to proceed as they have done for years, without any inconvenience or danger. It cannot be requisite to enable them to administer a limited and temporary aid to the islands. If it is meant to be pushed further, which the extent of its provisions justifies us in apprehending, it is a fraud on parliament thus covertly to effect it. Without a more visible necessity, so much power ought not to be surrendered to his majesty's ministers, nor so many great interests be alarmed with respect to their nearest concerns. I certainly cannot justify to myself (venerating as I have been taught to do, the navigation laws of the country) unnecessarily placing such vital interests at tins mercy of any government whatever; and I least of all am disposed so to place them, at the present moment, after the sentiments that have been expressed, and the opinions it is to be presumed are entertained. I trust the house will retain those laws under its own immediate protection, as the source of our greatness, the rarest preservation of our power, and the best bulwark of the British empire.
§ Lord Henry Petty
said, the noble lord complained that ministers had not informed the house of the nature and object of this bill; but he had scarcely proceeded to a second sentence before he admitted that a right. hon. friend of his (Mr. Fox) had disclosed the grounds and principles of that measure. The truth was, that his right. hon friend had opened the subject so completely, as was often his practice, as to render little further explanation necessary. The bill proposed by Mr. Pitt in 1783, on the intercourse with America, was much more directly opposed to the navigation law than the present, so that if this be absurd, novel, and monstrous, it at least must be much lesss absurd, novel, and monstrous, than that which was supported by that rt.hon. gent 987 The fact was, that the ship-owners were not prejudiced but benefited by this act, as the power was transferred from a situation in which they had no interest, and where they could not be heard, to a place where they were not only heard with patience, but listened to with pleasure. If the bill had been precisely the reverse, the objection would not have been at all surprising; but in the present circumstances the opposition from that quarter was most unreasonable and extraordinary. Then it was said the power should not be entrusted to the privy council. What was there peculiar in this case? Could the privy council exercise no sound discretion upon it? Was not nearly the same sort of power given to this body under the 34th of the king; and was not precisely the same authoriy conceded in the 35th of this reign? Whence then all this parade of innovation? On what did the naval superiority of the country essentially depend? On the prosperity of the West India Islands. This plan was most conducive to their advantage, and therefore, must contribute to support that maritime strength, Which could not be too highly estimated, and could not be too zealously maintained. Then it was objected that a secret would be discovered by America, that the existence of our colonies depended on her aid. It was no secret that the assistance of America was useful to our colonies after thirteen years experience afforded to that continent; and if promoting this intercourse could receive from America any conciliatory construction, this was not an objection, but a motive for the bill.
The Master of the Rolls
rose and spoke as follows:—One of the observations of the noble lord (Petty) who spoke last, is 'the-Most extraordinary I ever knew to be used in a debate, namely, that what has passed, on former occasions, has rendered unnecessary all argument in support of this bill, and, as he thinks, has rendered unavailing all arguments against it. Objections have indeed, he says, been urged, which might have had some force, but a satisfactory explanation has been given to them, and these the noble lord has left untouched. In his very, outset, the noble lord has left untouched one-half of the argument urged against him, by which he has left untouched one-half of his own bill. All the argument against one whole clause has entirely escaped the noble lord's observation, and he 988 proceeded just as if the provisions of that clause where not in the bill at all. Sir, when I compare the very limited purpose which the bill professes on the face of its preamble, with the extensive powers which the bill creates, I am utterly at a loss to guess at the object of its framers. It would be an affront to their understanding to say they had no object, and yet to say that the granting such power to any government is proper, is what I am not prepared to do, and what I am sure the noble lord has not enabled me to do, and what, therefore, I cannot consent to do. Sir, the bill professes, in its preamble, to be intended, and states itself to be calculated, to meet a necessity of the most limited kind; and the noble lord has said that the only object of the bill, is to do that legally which has been for years found indispensably necessary to be done in violation of the law: such is stated both to the preamble of the bill, and by the noble lord's explanation of it; but what does the bill do? By a force and conciseness beyond all example, it strikes out of your statute books, or reduces to a dead letter, all the body of the laws of this realm made for the support of our navigation, the rule of our colonial system, and every thing that depends on both; this is said to be the effect of necessity. Is this a proved necessity or only an alleged necessity? when did this necessity grow up? what is the extent of it? It must have been of a very limited kind for these two months; for the secretary of state's letter is dated so far back as April last, by which it appears that he felt no other necessity than that the West India colonies should be supplied with lumber, and with a few. but not with all, articles of provision; and that those who do supply the colonies with this lumber, and with these few articles of provision, shall be allowed to carry away with them rum and molasses; that is all the necessity which exists in the month of April; but in the month of May following, that is, in one month, it is discovered that there is a necessity for transferring from parliament all the controul it ever had over this important subject, and from the colonial government all the discretion it ever had, and of vesting in the hands of his majesty's ministers, an entire, absolute, and uncontroulable power to exercise their discretion over the whole body of the navigation laws of this realm, as far 989 as those laws depend upon your colonial system. Now, will the noble lord tell me that he is arguing the merits of this bill whom he leaves entirely unanswered all that has been said on the other side with respect to this colonial system and the navigation laws? Why, sir, to say that these discussions are not relevant, which apply to the very subject of the bill itself, shews the truth of what has been said on the other side that the noble lord himself is not in the secret of the real meaning and true object of this bill; or, that it contains a meaning, and has an object, which the noble lord does not think fit to disclose to parliament, and here I take leave to ask when a measure presented to parliament under a false character and description, is it not fair to infer, that under its true character and description it would not be endured? But it is said, in support of this bill, that the power which has hitherto been entrusted to the governors of the islands is now to be transferred to the privy council. Supposing it did no more than that, and that the power so to be transferred to the privy council was to be confined in it exercise to the objects specified in the secretary of state's letter, that is, that the whole power was to be confined to lumber, and the few articles to be imported into the colonies, and the rum and molasses to be carried out of them; then there would not be much objection to it; but that is nothing like the extent of the power to be given by this bill; for, by this bill, the power is without limit as it regards the regulation of the whole of your colonial system, and the whole of your navigation laws. And when did parliament ever give this power before? did it ever give it, or any thing like it, to the governors of the islands? I know it has from year to year passed acts of indemnity for what they did, and this is stated to be like the case of the king's prerogative to pardon a criminal. Certainly, the royal prerogative extends to the pardon of a criminal for an offence, and a valuable prerogative it is, when judiciously exercised; and I have no doubt, that these acts of indemnity, like the royal prerogative, have been a judicious exercise of discretion; but did we ever hear of any prerogative that empowered any body before hand to commit an offence? The power which parliament gave to the governors of the West Indies, parliament expected to be dicreetly exercised, confined to cases of ab- 990 solute necessity, and that they would allow of none of those importations into the colonies by strangers, except in cases of clear necessity. There is no instance of any bill of indemnity passing or of being asked for upon any other foundation. Parliament never meant to grant any indemnity on any other conditions, nor is it too much to assume that parliament never would have granted any indemnity on any other condition; for, in every act of indemnity that ever passed on this subject, it is stated, that, "it was necessary for the governors of the islands, to allow the importation of lumber and provisions; and that those who imported them should be allowed to take away certain articles of colonial produce in return for the same;" that is the limited description which you have given them, and the power is only given to the governors in a case of absolute necesssity; but here it is provided that you shall give the power to the privy council absolutely, and in the fisrt instance. Now I would say, before I gave it any where: before I would say where the power should lodge, I would enquire whether it be necessary to lodge it any where; and I would ask this house whether it be a matter of course to give this power; I say, a matter of course, to give the privy council a power of suspending any law without laying the foundation of the necessity of it upon a previous inquiry into the matter. There may be a case of public notoriety on which parliament would act without a previous inquiry, but that is not this case; there may be such a case as that which occurred in 1784, in which a previous inquiry may be unnecessary by the notoriety of the necessity; but that is not like The present case. How do I know whether there has been lately, is now, or may hereafter be, at any time given, a competent supply for the British colonies by British ships, from G. Britain, or from the British colonies in North America by British ships? How do I know what the state of the trade at home is? How do I know what state the British colonies of North America are in? How do I know what the state of British tonnage is at this moment? How do I know what state it is likely to be in some given time hence? what do I know of the state in which British trade is without inquiry? Will the advocates for this bill say that inquiry is nothing, at a moment when it is most Manliest, that 991 without inquiry every thing else is worse than nothing? Will they give us a statement of facts of their own framing, and which ought to be made the subject of inquiry, when that statement is disputed? and yet they deny that enquiry to those who offer to prove the truth of a contrary statement, and that, at the very time, when they themselves are shewing the necessity of laying a ground for parliamentary investigation: Sir, I distrust extremely all general arguments in this case; and, indeed, almost all general arguments when they are made to apply to particular cases: nothing is more easy than to adapt a statement of facts of your own making to general principles, and to apply general arguments to that statement; and, therefore, I distrust all general arguments when applied to this case; and for this reason, because I remember that the very same arguments, and the very same answers were made, word for word, for this trade, as now contended for, in time of peace, that are now made in time of war. There is not one syllable said this day in time of war, that was not advanced in the year 1784, to shew that the opening of this trade was necessary; that is to say, that it is as necessary in time of peace as in war time; a proposition which ministers, whatever they may wish, have not yet thought fit to go the length of contending; but their arguments, and so must all general arguments, go that length. The very language of the hon. baronet is to be found in the answer which was made in the year 1784: the noble lord and the hon. baronet have said, they thought it extraordinary that British shipping could be capable of carrying on this traffic, under all the circumstances of this trade; so it was said in as many words in the year 1784, that the trade for the supply of your colonies cannot be carried on, by reason of the circuitous voyage which the British ships are obliged to take; and that you are at once obliged to come to the direct American trade in American ships. But my noble friend over the way, (lord Castlereagh) stated the ground of what was offered to be done in 1784, and of the non-application of it to this case; when the necessity of the measure then attempted appeared upon the very face of it; there was therefore, no necessity for enquiry into the particular facts on which the measure was founded; it grew out of the situation, the particu- 992 lar situation, in which things were placed by the American revolution; and this shows the impropriety of the application of the argument of the noble lord who spoke last; who referred, by way of justification of the present measure, which he proposes for the adoption of parliament, to another measure which had been proposed, indeed, and offered too: but which had been rejected by parliament; (alluding to the draft of a bill penned by Mr. Pitt, which had been referred to by lord H. Petty, and partly quoted by him;) and that measure was supported by much the same arguments as the present is attempted to be supported; say attempted, because now the futility of the system is exposed. It was then said, "there is no danger from this; let America remain on the footing on which it stands; let its trade go on in its old channel; it will find its level, and can never hurt us." Why, sir, this was all very plausible general reasoning, but had no specific application to the plain matter of fact of the case; because, it was well known, that it would injure the trade of this country, and, with that sense of it in the opinion of those who were best qualified to form one,the proposed measure was a bad one, it was opposed by the general, and almost unanimous voice of the country; and for that very good reason, no attempt was made to carry it into execution. So far from it, that the very first measure which the privy council adopted, was a measure of restraint to prohibit it, and they then expressed their opinion, upon deliberation, to be, that this was a plan which it would be unwise to adopt, or rather that it was a measure in which it was wise to depart from its adoption; and it was held still further, that if any thing was brought from America to us, or taken from us to America, it should never be done but through the medium of British ships. So much for the similarity of circumstances in the two cases; in one of which there was much emergency, and in the other, none; in one of which all the circumstances were owing to a revolution in the affairs of a state; in the other, all the circumstances arise out of an established course of things; and gentlemen do not even contend there is any emergency in them; yet, even with all these arguments for the proposed measure in the former case it was rejected, and now, without any, it is proposed for 993 our adoption. But gentlemen contend, it is needless to examine, or even to dispute, the necessity of this measure; because it is known, they contend it is known, they contend it exists beyond dispute; that the facts are so plain, it is idle to dispute their existence; and that nothing can be a remedy but the provisions of the present bill. Hence, they say, arises the necessity. The facts, however, on which this necessity is founded, they do not give us now, they either do, or they do not, know of the existence of this necessity. If they do know of the existence of this necessity, they can convey it to parliament: and if they can, they ought to convey it to parliament. It is their duty to convey it to parliament, to justify the adoption of a measure so repugnant to our established laws. If they have no knowledge of this necessity, we are legislating in the dark; because they ask us to do so, and that against every principle of policy by which this country has been guided, and by which it has hitherto so signally prospered. Now, sir, under these impressions, I could say, that instead of pursuing the system recommended by the noble lord, we ought to call on him, and those who, with him, are the friends of this bill, to point out to us the instances in which this house has sanctioned, or even countenanced a departure from the navigation laws. Sir, it has hitherto been the policy of this country to regard with jealousy every proposition to that effect, to require a reason for any measure that has that aspect; and to regard every measure with distrust, if it has that apparent tendency. But the friends of this bill take a course directly the contrary; they take up the navigation laws as a hostile system, and if they can find any measure in our legislative history, which they think has any tendency to oppose it, they consider it as a matter of useful discovery, and exult in it as a matter of triumph, As if an attack on the navigation laws was not only perfectly fair, but even laudable. They think they have made a valuable discovery, if they find out a precedent for an attack upon the navigation laws; and so far do they carry the spirit of hostility into action, that if they do but find an instance in our parliamentary history of a temporary infringement on the navigation laws, they insist upon it, as a proof of their right to pursue a measure 994 for their permanent suspension, which is but another word for their total destruction. They find a case which has no resemblance in its circumstances to the present, but no matter how dissimilar, it is an instance in which the navigation laws have been interrupted in their course, and therefore they tell us, "we ought to be allowed to pursue it as a precedent, because the navigation laws are of a nature so odious, I suppose that it is our interest to have them entirely destroyed!" But it seems there is a great concern and compunction felt by the governors of the West India islands, on account of the violation of their oaths, in the instances wherein they are called upon to consent to the suspension of the navigation laws: that they are sworn to preserve all the laws of the realm inviolate; that a suspension of the laws is a violation of the laws; and that a violation of the laws is a violation of their oaths. Now, sir, this may be very laudable morality in the supporters of this bill; but I cannot help observing, that t this tenderness for the consciences of the governors of the West India islands is a little whimsical, considering how they were treated on former occasions. When the colonial governors dispensed with the navigation laws, in cases of absolute necessity, and parliament never gave them an indemnity for any other, they were not told of this point of conscience, if the act is blameable. But how does the right hon. secretary of state treat them by the instructions contained in his letter? He tells the governors of the islands, it is not necessity which I regard; it is not your consciences I regard: I regard nothing but what appears to me to be convenient; and I will shew you, that what you thought was an excuse as a matter of necessity shall be continued as a matter of convenience; and you shall suspend the law, however your consciences may be affected by it, on account of the necessity of doing it, not only during war, in which it may possibly be thought necessary, but until 6 months shall have elapsed after I shall have directed notice to be given of the discontinuance of the practice. Now, what are the governors to do all this time, after the necessity, which alone is said to be the excuse, has ceased? They are to continue in the uniform practice of the violation of the law; and thus, according to the argument of gentle. 995 men on the other side, violate their oaths in obedience to the order of the secretary of state. And the secretary of state, the plenitude of his power, grants to the governors of the islands an indulgence to commit that very sin which the friends of this bill so much deplore; and not only does he grant this indulgence to commit sin, but he gives them an encouragement; nay, still more, he commands them to commit sin, and yet these are the gentlemen who now turn up their eyes to Heaven, and deprecate the evil of governors being placed under the former system, in a situation in which they Were made so immorally to tamper with their oaths.—Now, with regard to the question, "how far it is necessary to lodge the power which this bill gives any where," (which is not proved,) I am of opinion, that, supposing it to be necessary to lodge it any where, it would be better to lodge it with the privy council than any where else. I have no difficulty in saying, that if it must be given to any body, I had much rather it were given to the privy council than to the governors of the West India islands; because I am of opinion, that the privy council could, and would exercise, such a power more discreetly than the governors of the islands could; or perhaps I should say, that the privy council would make a more discreet use of their power than any other body of men would, supposing them to be equal to others in information upon the facts on which their power was to operate. But I doubt the possibility of their being able to possess that knowledge which will be requisite for the due discharge of the functions with which this bill is to invest them; for the question is not a question of dry, abstract competency, in the privy council, to do justice to any trust that may be reposed in them: upon that none of us can entertain any doubt; but unless you place them in a situation in which their Competency may come into action, that competency can be of no use to them, or to the public, I do not know whether they can do more than my lord Camden did, whose instructions to the governors of the islands have been so often alluded to in the discussions which have taken place on this subject; and here it is observable, that whatever power you may give to the privy council, whatever responsibility you may attach to the privy council; however you may take away the responsibility of 996 the governors; however you may affect to take away their discretion; it is most manifest that they must act on their discretion, while they have any power to act at all; for this bill will not alter the necessity under which they are to act. They must, after all the instructions which you may give to them from hence, act according to their discretion upon the circumstances of the case, as circumstances may arise; and you must indemnify them too, just as you did before this bill was thought of; and for the same reason you always did it, because it is impossible to avoid it. This has been verified by the fact; for when power was in the hands of the privy council, to regulate the whole of the trade between America and the West India colonies; when it was infinitely important that the privy council should exercise their authority; and when they did exercise their authority, an act of parliament passed for the purpose; when the directions of the privy council were sent to the governors of the West Indies; when that power, so given to the privy council, and by them delegated, necessarily and unavoidably delegated to the governors of the West India islands; and that power, so delegated, was abused by some of those governors still the power was not taken away, but left with those same governors, even although it was abused by them—why? Because parliament knew it was impossible to take it away. But now, instead of allowing the governors to act upon their own conviction, you are going to order them what they are to do beforehand, when you may not possess the information requisite for the purpose; and when, after all your directions are given, they must, in many cases, at least, act upon their own discretion, even though it should be contrary to the orders of the privy council. I should say, that if this bill were passed, and the privy council were acting under its authority, there might be circumstances in which it was not less the duty of parliament to institute an enquiry on that account; because although the power may have been granted by the legislature, yet a question might arise upon the propriety of its continuance —and a question might arise, whether the discretion should be left with the privy council or with the governors?—Supposing that the legislature did not take pains to make a proper inquiry in the first instance, it does not follow they should not make 997 it in the second. I have heard of such a thing as a possibility of the legislature having conducted itself improperly; but if, after having done so, we were to say, that the thing should never be altered, because of the reverence we all ought to have for the legislature, that would be equivalent to saying, that if the legislature has once conducted itself imprudently, it must conduct itself imprudently to the end of time. Now let us suppose, instead of this being a bill about to be passed into a law, it had been a law; that instead of our having to consider whether we shall make this law, we were considering a law already made; and the greatness of the shipping interest of this country were to come forward, and to complain to parliament of the destructive effect of the act of parliament, would you refuse to hear the complaint? would you think it a fair or even a sensible answer to say, "We have followed the practice prescribed by this act now for 13 years—you tell us that you are competent to the ample supply of the West India colonies—you tell us, that the great interest of the empire requires that you should have the exclusive right of furnishing these supplies; that the navigation requires it; that without it the country will decay in strength, and dwindle into weakness, and finally be ruined?" Would you, I say, think it a sensible answer to say, "Inasmuch as we have done this for 13 years, we will go on?" Do you conceive that these consecutive acts would be an excuse for their own continuance, and release you from the duty of entering into an inquiry on the subject when these matters are stated to you? Is it too much to say, that you ought to inquire whether, and to see whether, the public interest does, or does not, really demand a change of such a system? I apprehend, Sir, that in such a case, even if we had an act of parliament under which we had thus acted for 13 years, it would be the duty of parliament to institute the proposed inquiry; and if so, how much more is it the duty of this house, to institute an inquiry into the propriety of a mere practice, which is not a law, before you sanction the practice by law—and that is all which the shipping interest ask of you. They do not desire you to say, that this measure is not necessary, or that it ought not, under any circumstances, to be adopted; they only 998 desire you not to adopt it without ascertaining that it is necessary. Upon this practice the noble lord's argument is, that parliament ought to declare, immediately, that the power cannot but be necessary in time of war. I am afraid it would turn out upon inquiry, to be necessary to do something of this description in time of war; but of this I am quite sure, parliament ought not to deliver that opinion, without hearing those who are of another. I am not calling on you to say, that this practice of 13 Years, on which you rely so much, is not necessary to be continued; I am not saying that it is not absolutely necessary, that an intercourse should subsist between our West India colonies and America, and that that intercourse should take place through the medium of American shipping; but I am saying, that I do really think it is extremely important to ascertain, whether it is necessary or not; and supposing it was totally unnecessary, I have no more wish than the noble lord has, to say any thing that may savour of an illiberal spirit with regard to America. Far be it from me to say any thing by which any commercial jealousies should prevent you from enjoying those advantages which may arise from good amity with America, and that you should not relax, for your own convenience, your own laws. Let America profit as much as she may, by any system which we adopt, while that system is serviceable to ourselves; or, still more, let America profit as much as she may, by our adopting that which our own interest requires. But while I say this, I cannot shut my eyes to the principle on which America proceeds in a sort of discussion, by which she appears not to rely on the force of reason, neither does she refer to the last resort of nations to enforce their will—the thunder of cannon. But she says, "that she can make a commercial war upon you." It is one of the propositions which are most current in America "that, by shutting up her ports, and by denying her produce to our colonies in the West Indies, she can reduce G. Britain to her own terms." That is the favourite topic in America. Why then, I would say, that I would not put myself more in her power. I would not become more dependant on her than I could help. Now, every body must admit, that this bill, and especially the arguments by which it is sup- 999 ported, make us very dependant upon her; because they both proceed on the probability that we are in her power with respect to the very existence of our West India colonies; and if you proceed on a recognition of that principle, every day your inability will increase; because, in proportion as America gets hold of this trade, in the same proportion exactly your North American colonies are excluded from it, for it is quite impossible for your North American colonies to come in competition with America in trading to the West India colonies. You are informed, by papers on your table, that the ability of your North American colonies will decrease, clay after day, and that of America will increase in exact proportion to it; and therefore you see, in this particular, as your power is decreasing in our North American colonies, your dependance on America is becoming greater. But satisfy yourselves first of the existence of the necessity; and do not let us, by argument and presumption, without proof, put ourselves under America, and at her mercy, and in the state in which we are to be told, as in the year 1784, that we could not do without America. It may be said, and we are to argue upon it, that this measure is not to touch any negotiation upon which public rumours are on foot, but we must act as if there had been no such thing; I say that if yon go on with this trade, the British colonial system will come to an end altogether; you will be disabled from carrying it on, because in time the whole of the British shipping will have vanished; for in time of peace even, ships cannot be restored. In the first place, it will take a course of years to bring you into the situation in a which you were; for that reason, you should enter into an enquiry, that you may ascertain what you now have left, and what you are in possession of: for, under this system, every hour your situation grows worse, and more and more difficult. This is not like the operation which the war has upon your seamen; for when the war terminates, by the provision of the navigation acts, you have your seamen again; provided you have your shipping, all is well, your trade will go on. For, under the navigation acts, you permit only a given proportion of foreign seamen to navigate your ships, even in time of war; and so when the war ceases, there your ships are, and you have your men to navigate them; you do not, in any case, 1000 even in time of war, permit your ships to be entirely manned by foreigners; you being by your navigation laws bound to continue and keep up the proportion of British seamen on board them. But what will you say to the operation of the system of this bill which tends to annihilate the British shipping? for, under this system, every ship that is used up is so much dead loss, which can never be repaired; as not another will be built to supply it. What motive can there be to do so when there is no employment for it? This is like living on your capital instead of subsisting upon the produce of it; for there can be no fresh produce to supply the deficiency as it arises; you render it impossible to renew your shipping. Nor is this all. Although this is enough to bring on your inevitable ruin, should the war continue, but it works more rapidly towards your destruction in another way; for not only does it prevent your seamen from being reared up, by taking away the source of their future employment; but it creates an immediate drain upon those you have already; because, by enlarging the scope of the American shipping trade, you enlarge her demand for seamen, and by this system America is already so over-grown in the shipping trade, that her own seamen, fast as she is rearing them, are by no means equal to her wants; and the natural effect of that is, that she will take away yours; and the truth of this the hon. baronet (sir W. Young) who spoke from under the gallery in support of this measure, admits he has told you, in as many words, that a great many British seamen are daily bought up by America in open markets, so that you are not to suppose that the evils of this system will cease with the war. Therefore, arguing this bill upon the supposition of the noble lord, that it only is to reserve to the privy council the power which has hitherto been given to the governors of the West India islands; I say, since the effects of it are such as I have stated, you ought not even to do that without enquiry. But when we come to look at the true description of this measure, it is utterly impossible that a British parliament can be any party to it in its present state. Can a British parliament be reconciled to this act, the result of which is to take away all the British shipping, and with it all the British seamen, for the one follows the other, and both are absolutely inevitable, supposing the war to be of long 1001 continuance? I should like to hear any man argue this point. I was very anxious to hear what the noble lord had to say upon this part of the subject; and, says the noble lord, the Americans are not blind enough not to know that your colonial system is an artificial system, an artificial and a constrained system. [No! no! no! from lord H. Petty.] I should be very happy to be satisfied that I have mistaken the meaning of the noble lord, but, I certainly did understand him to say, that the Americas well knew our colonial system to be a artificial and constrained system. It would be very gratifying, undoubtedly, to me to suppose, or rather to be satisfied, that a noble lord's meaning, as conveyed, or be tended to be conveyed, by his words, did not give any degree or countenance to the provisions of this bill, as far as it has the effect of promoting that impression; and should be glad the forms of debate cool afford to me the satisfaction of hearing the noble lord, at once disavow that sentiment. But that, I must be content to wait for, in its turn, according to the rules which, for general convenience, are made to govern our debates. If the noble lord did mean that or any thing like it then I say we must be content to surrender the whole of our navigation laws, am do a great deal more than this bill professes to do; for, after this bill passes, the West India colonies are no more ours that they are the colonies of North America. I will venture to say, not one half so much, except that of the burthen of them; all the profits of them will go to America. and the burthens and disadvantages of them will, alone, remain to us. For there are disadvantages, and very great disadvantages, in all cases to a mother country from her colonies, and those belong to ours in the West Indies. It is always a question of balance between the advantages and disadvantages of a colony, on which depends the policy whether you part from it or retain it; for we are obliged to defend it in time of war, and we are under the necessity of affording a great and expensive force for that purpose; nay, in some cases, we are obliged not only to carry on, but to commence war, on account of our colonies, and it is historically correct, that many of our wars have been on their account. Many of our wars, I say, are of that description, nor is this the only inconvenience We suffer on amend of our 1002 colonies; for it has been a principle of our policy, to impose restraint on ourselves, for the purpose of giving our colonies an advantage in our markets over the produce of other countries; and we have often been obliged, indeed, we are in the daily habit of obliging, our own people to pay dearer for the articles of our colonies than we can buy them for of other countries. Why? because we have advantages from them which we cannot claim from those countries who are not dependant upon us; and the advantages, upon a view of all the circumstances, are greater than the disadvantages. But what does this bill do? It proposes to give up all the trade, and all the benefit of the colonies, to America, and that we shall keep the expences and the burthen of them. I will ask his majesty's ministers whether, after the passing of this bill, there will be any security that one ounce of colonial produce will ever again come into G. Britain? Suppose the Americans, who, by this bill, are empowered to carry your colonial produce where they please, should choose to carry your colonial produce to all the markets of Europe (for that, most undoubtedly, they may do, under the provisions of this bill,) not one hogshead of the sugar of your colonies would come into this country. You may thus lose, at once, all the advantages, while you retain all the inconveniencies of our colonial system. You are obliged to burthen your people with very heavy duties, for the purpose of supporting this colonial produce, and you are now giving up the advantages of that produce to America: you are now giving to America more than if you were about to enter into a treaty, to cede to her the whole of your colonies for ever; for, in that case, you would say to her, Since you must have the colonies to yourselves you must take the burthen of them as well as the advantages; but, instead of that, we give to America the choice, at least, of taking all the advantages, without their being liable to one of the burthens of the West India colonies.—But the hon. baronet (sir W. Young) was pleased to state, that it was wise to repeal your navigation laws in part, for the sake of restoring your commerce. I will not argue the general proposition of what is of a superior, or what of a subordinate or secondary nature; whether commerce is not essential to the support of the nation, and, consequently, to our naval strength; 1003 and whether, without commerce, we could support the state, or could have a navy: these are general propositions, which, as I have said already, I have no inclination to dispute; for, I always distrust them in argument, because I am never sure that they apply to the case in discussion. The general proposition of the hon. baronet therefore, that the protection of trade is essential to the welfare of the empire, I do not dispute; but the question is this—is the bill now before us of that description which will tend to the protection of trade in the manner which the hon. baronet supposes? Of what use is it that we should hear stated and established these general propositions which are true in all cases, unless the measure now before us falls within their policy? I may, on the other hand, with as much truth say, and insist upon it, as a counter-proposition, that just in proportion as you surrender your navigation you surrender your commerce. But the question is, whether the case, as it arises out of this bill, comes under the one or the other of these propositions. I alledge it does: I do say that, by this bill, you lay the foundation of the ruin of your trade, by the surrender of your navigation: I do say that, by this bill, you surrender your navigation to a degree that is absolutely extravagant, besides being a total surrender of the power of parliament to revise what may be done under it, such as hitherto has been the habit from year to year. See what the necessity, which ministers contend to be the foundation of this bill, will lead them to, and does lead them to—that of surrendering the navigation of this country, so as to put the American shipping on a footing with the British? That would be a pretty strong thing for a British parliament to consent to; but this is much stronger, for here you relax your navigation law, in favour of American shipping, to a degree to which it never was relaxed in favour of British shipping. Sir, I do not know that the framers of this bill know it, but it most unquestionably is the fact, that the trade to be carried on with the colonies, in British shipping, is confined to certain specified articles; whereas, to the American shipping, it is unconfined and unlimited. For, when once the American fillips are got into your colonies, they may take the produce of these colonies, whither soever they please, all over the world, and they are not restricted so much even as the 1004 British shipping is. Good God! what a spectacle is this to exhibit to the world! am I in a British parliament beseeching and imploring it not to pass a bill which has for its object such enormous effects as that of taking off restrictions upon a trade to be carried on with British colonies by foreigners, which are continued with regard to British subjects? Why, sir, this willingness to erase out of the statute book the very name of your navigation law, is a disposition, guiding the councils, and changing the ancient policy of G. Britain —it is a change, indeed, which the French statesman himself would enjoy. He could have wished no other, he had no other desire, as he has often expressed, although our commercial law affected France less than any other maritime power in Europe; for they never were our rivals in the carrying trade, and yet they called our navigation laws an odious hostile code, by which England made war on the industry of all nations —What a triumph to our enemies must it be, if the parliament of Great Britain agree to give up those laws which their enemies have so long regarded as their bane, while they are the foundation of our greatness! But then it may be said, that although the powers thus given by this bill are so enormous, still you will not impute to the privy council any intention to use such powers to the ruin of their country; and it is as well for the privy council to adopt measures for the general advantage of our trade and navigation as for parliament to do so; and it cannot be supposed that these powers will be used by the privy council, for any other purpose than that of the interest of their country, however enormous these powers may appear to you to be. Why, sir, if these are powers unfit to be used, as most certainly they are, they are unfit to be asked for; and if asked for, they are unfit to be granted. And certainly, in the very extensive scene in which power is here claimed, it is impossible it can be executed; and why should any set of men have a power by act of parliament to ruin their country? Is it to be considered as a ground on which concessions may be made by us? Is it because ministers must be supported? and that it is not to be supposed ministers would use the power in the latitude with which it is given, in order that parliament may sheer there is no bound to the liberality of its concession? There certainly may be, in some cases, a great difficulty, in others 1005 an impossibility, to define precisely or exactly what is necessary to be given by way of discretionary power to ministers, or to express specifically what power should be withheld from them; and therefore a general and undefined power must be given, and we must trust to the discretion of ministers in the use of it: such was the case when the habeus corpus act was suspended. At the time when that measure took place the country was put to the disagreeable necessity of defending itself, in that mode, against a few conspirators, and put for that purpose the liberties of all the subjects of this realm under the care of the executive government of the country: you could not accomplish your object in any other way. For, although you had every reason to be assured that the conspirators were but few in number, yet you could not draw a distinction between them and the rest of the king's subjects, until after they were tried; and, therefore, from the necessity of the case, you were obliged to make the power general, leaving the exercise of it to his majesty's ministers, and they were to detain only those against whom there were founded suspicions. But this general power is never necessary to be given, when the thing to be done can be specified; so here, in the articles to be carried away by neutral ships from your colonies, what is to hinder you from specifying runs and molasses? particularly after what has been said by an hon. baronet, by which it appears that there has been a specification, and an enumeration of all the articles allowed to be taken away from the colonies in neutral ships: if so, specification and enumeration are possible; therefore, there can be no necessity for these unqualified and sweeping powers.—Sir, when I am called upon to agree to the giving of power to others, which power may be exercised discreetly, perhaps, but very differently from that which I expect at the time of granting it, a question necessarily arises in my mind, what is thought upon that subject by those who demand the power, and by whom it is to be exercised? How do I know what power ministers think necessary to exercise, except the power which they claim? Have I any other criterion to go by? And that is a power which no man will say can be tolerated, if exercised to its full extent. In the hands of one man, 1006 this power may be an absolute nullity; for he would use no part of it, and, therefore, it is useless to give it; In the hands of another it may be executed to a ruinous extent: and for that reason, dangerous to give it; and, therefore, under this artificial and constrained system, (for I cannot help retaining the use of these words) it is impossible to go on, and therefore much better to give it up. How do I know that the idea I have of the use to which any of the powers to be given by this bill, is that which they would wish to make of it? I own I do not know what they mean by this bill; and as I have said already, it would be an affront to them to suppose that they have no meaning, which is of itself a reason why I should not assent to this bill. Sir! I see no bounds, whatever, to the power which the privy council is to have to give an unlimited indulgence to American shipping: and I see nothing whatever, in this bill, which gives to the privy council any authority to make the slightest regulation with reference to British shipping: so that the indulgence is all to the American, and the rigour is all to the British shipping. [Here he read a clause in the bill to prove this observation.] Sir, is it not monstrous that such a provision, should exist, in any shape whatever, in a British act of parliament? and yet, here it is; a power to grant, in favour of American shipping, that which cannot be granted to British shipping; is it possible that such power can be given by a British parliament? Sir, I really have no idea that ministers are aware of the meaning of it.—These sir, are the reasons I have to shew that this bill ought not to pass into a law. I have shewn the danger of assenting to any measure of this kind without inquiry; I have shewn that it is different from any measure that ever was yet adopted in parliament; I have shew is that no situation in which this country can be placed can ever require such powers to be given to any body of men in it; I have shewn the intolerable insult which it offers to the British shipping by placing it below that of a foreign state; I have shewn the ruin which will attend an attempt to put in force any thing like the extent of its provisions. Is it then, after all this, is it too much to ask of a British house of parliament, not to destroy the 1007 best interests of the British empire by destroying its navigation, and that without the regularity of an inquiry? If you thought the thing was of no worth, you ought to observe more decorum in the destruction of it. If gentlemen will contend it is improbable the privy council will exercise improperly the power to be given to them by this bill, I answer that the prospect is not flattering in that particular, by the disregard and contempt which you have shewn for the law already; when you yourselves will not venture to define the use which you intend to make of the power when you have obtained it, and when you spew that you regard your colonial system as an artificial and constrained system; so that, after this, there may be a total abandonment of the old system of the navigation laws. Sir, if ever there was a time in which it was the duty of parliament to guard against the introduction of these destructive principles, by which the navigation laws are threatened with annihilation, and more particularly against giving any persons in the state the power of producing that effect, the present moment is that very time; and I think that the necessity of caution is considerably increased by the very arguments which have been urged in support of this bill to-night. Good God! sir, what has been the ground on which this bill has been defended? Ministers are determined, it seems, to carry every thing by storm; for they do not reason on the wisdom or the policy of the bill, but they recommend it to this British house of parliament, by shewing that it is of the same kind as other acts of hostility which have, at different times, and under different circumstances been committed against the navigation laws of G. Britain; so that the recommendation to the bill is, its resemblance to those measures which are hostile to the navigation laws! I say, that if this bill should pass into a law, a foundation will have been laid, by which ministers may come to parliament with any claim which the intoxication of successful power may dictate or suggest. They may think it necessary to relinquish the whole system of your naval strength; there is nothing which may not be justified under this bill; and, if any body should attempt to resist the extravagance of the application, they have nothing to do but to hold up this bill and say, "see here, the powers which the legislature has con- 1008 fided in us; we must have this measure; it is essential to the system which parliament has delegated to us in its wisdom," to which, I know not what answer any one could make.—Sir, I had much more to add, but after having trespassed on the patience of the house so long, I must pass it over. I can only express a confident hope that parliament (a British parliament) will not hold out such a spectacle to the world as the recognition of such a principle as this bill contains, world be: which would be only doing that by a law of your own which your enemies, aiming at your destruction, have hitherto endeavoured in vain to accomplish; who have for upwards of a century, been endeavouring to impress upon the world a conviction that your navigation laws are at war with the rights, and hostile to the interests of other countries. I trust that you will not do for your enemies that which they have never been able to accomplish for themselves; I trust that you will not deliver up to ministers the whole foundation of your greatness; I trust you will not thank that you will triumph by teaching foreign powers to say the policy of G. Britain is changed; they have given up the system of their navigation laws, by an act of parliament, into the hands of the ministers, who now see it will not do for them any longer to maintain that oppressive preponderance by which they were the masters of the ocean; they have given up that system, and gradually it will be suffered to die away, under the wisdom of a truly enlightened administration, who will not suffer that terror and death to the hopes of other nations at sea, the navigation law, to stand any longer in the way of those great, philosophically pacific arrangements which they have formed.— Sir, I trust that a British parliament will never enable the enemies of G. Britain to hold out such language to the world: I trust that a British parliament will not give up that guardian power it possesses over the interests of the British empire, by passing a bill which contains provisions that no man has yet been bold enough to say he would enforce to their full extent; I trust you will not give up that system by which you have grown up into your present power; a system on the preservation of which it is my entire conviction, that not only your prosperity, but your very existence entirely depends.
replied to the right hon. and learned gent., in support of the bill, and contended, that it went merely to place under the controul of his majesty in council, and by law, a practice which, for thirteen years past, had been uniformly assumed by the governors of the West-India islands, without law, and upon the presumption of future indemnity. He contended, also, that it was the very selfsame principle of controul and discretionary power of dispensing with the rigour of the navigation laws with respect to America, and the East-India trade, which had existed in his majesty and the privy council, ever since the conclusion of the American war, and this, too, under bills successively brought in by a late right hon. gent., and supported by his supporters, without any of those apprehensions for the safety of the navigation laws, or the ruin of our commerce, our navy, and our national power, which seemed, that night, to excite so much clamour in the vigilant guardians of our prosperity and safety.
§ Mr. Perceval
spoke in opposition to the bill, and contended, that neither the noble lord who introduced it, nor those who supported it, really understood it: for that it did not merely, as they had alledged, open to the Americans the advantages of our navigation laws, with respect to the furnishing our West-India islands with provisions and other produce and manufacture, but that it opened the same privilege to all neutral ships of all nations whatever.
Mr. Secretary Windham
conceived, that it was totally unnecessary that his majesty's ministers should rise seriatim to answer arguments, which had been repeatedly advanced and overturned. If a bill of indemnity, however, had been spoken of, it was not the time to desire that yet: something must be done first, and when that time did arrive, he should hope that the house would indulge him so far as to say, that they did not see the necessity of it until earl Camden came forward to ask for his indemnity for having pursued a nearly similar line of conduct.
again insisted that the present Measure would be a gross infraction of the navigation laws.—The question was very generally called for and the house divided: For the third reading, 85; Against it, 30; Majority, 55.—Previous to the passing of the bill, Mr. Prinsep brought up his promised clauses, which, after some alteration, were adopted, and added, by way of ri- 1010 der to the bill; after which the bill was passed, and was ordered to the lords.—Adjourned at half past two on Wednesday morning.