§ Mr. Wallace
, after shortly adverting to the importance of the subject, especially as the great question of the East India Company's Charter would soon come before the House, observed, that the Committee had already made two large reports, which contained a full account of the foreign transactions of the company, and that it only remained now to take into consideration the home department of the business, that the House might have before them a complete history of the finances of the East India Company. He apologised for the delay which had occurred, on the ground of the length of time requisite to prepare, arrange, and render intelligible tedious and complicated accounts. He wished to make only two slight alterations, which were, the substitution of Mr. Howarth and Mr. Lushington, in the room of lord Melville and Sir John Anstruther. He then moved, "That a Select Committee be appointed to enquire into the present state of the affairs of the East India Company, and to report the same, as it shall appear to them, to the House, with their observations thereupon."
§ Mr. Creevey
objected to the motion altogether. For the purpose of shewing the importance of the subject, he begged that that part of the Prince Regent's speech at the opening of the session, which recommended attention to the affairs of the British possessions in India, should be read. [It being accordingly read by the clerk, the hon. gentleman proceeded.] The charter of the Company was near its expiration: it was therefore highly important, that every sort of information should be obtained before the discussion of its renewal. It was on this ground he objected to the select committee, as utterly incompetent and inadequate to furnish that information. It was now the fifth session since that Com- 673 mittee had been appointed, and yet their accounts were so utterly unintelligible, that he was convinced that not one person in that House, nor out of it, understood a tittle of the matter. He proposed, therefore, a committee of the whole House, that the country might be able to see what was going forward. There were documents enough already an which an enquiry might be grounded. The first object of consideration should be the agreement of 1793, by which it was guaranteed, that in consideration of an exclusive monopoly, the sum of 500,000l. should be annually paid to the public. Yet, in the course of 19 years this payment had been only once made; and in another instance, the public had been called upon to advance a loan of 1,500,000l.—The next object for their consideration was, that the external or Indian debt of the Company, instead of being reduced from 8 to 2 millions as was stipulated in the act of 1793, was increased to 30 millions; the bond-debt from 2 to 7 millions; although not one farthing (except in one solitary instance) had been contributed in compensation, according to the terms of the guarantee. As for the sum of 12,000,000l. which, by the act of 1793, was to have accumulated from the profits of the company as a guarantee fund for their capital stock, to this moment not a single farthing had been contributed to it. In the time of king William, the East India Company had paid a valuable consideration for their exclusive trade; and also in the reign of queen Anne, on the mere renewal of their charter, and so on different occasions of renewals of their charter, this principle of valuable consideration being given for their exclusive trade was observed till the period of 1767. From 1765, however—the year of the great military achievements of lord Clive in India, the East India Company had altogether changed their character of merchants for sovereigns; from this period to the present the Company had not only paid no consideration to the state for their exclusive trade, but with the great territorial provinces they had become possessed of, they had become a constant burden and grievance to the nation, and even to themselves. For a solution of this difficulty, he begged to refer the House to the 9th Report of the year 1780, which was drawn up by Mr. Burke with great perspicuity and extensive learning. Thence it would appear, that the Company were 674 no longer merchants, but the great landholders of India: that they fitted out vast fleets, not for the conveyance of merchandise, but to carry out stores, and to bring back tribute. No wonder, therefore, that where there was no trade there could be no proceeds to fulfil the articles of their agreement If the House would give the deserved attention to that luminous report, and to the examination of Mr. Hastings, they might, instead of the monstrous farce of a private committee, be able to take a proper view of the subject. There were additional reasons why the discussion should be public: one was, the present actual decline of trade in this country. As a proof of it, gentlemen would see from the returns of the property-tax, in 1811, that they were less than the returns of 1810, by 1,100,000l. which did not arise from any deficit in the rents of land, nor from any depreciation of stock, but from a failure in trade and manufactures. If this decline in the tax were 1,100,000l. it would be seen that the total loss was ten times more; that was 11 millions.—He then stated from his own knowledge the great revolution of trade and commerce in Liverpool, in whose docks there now appeared nothing but a dismantled commercial navy. He had then in his hands a document from the town of Liverpool, which declared the numerous distresses which had occurred in the last year. From this it appeared, that so great had been the accumulation of distress, that in the first week of last month, relief had been given to 8,000 poor persons; in the second, to 11,000; in the third week, to 13,000; in the last, to 15,000. He mentioned these important and melancholy facts, for the purpose of impressing upon the House the urgent necessity there was for their giving all their attention to any subject that held out a prospect of new commercial advantages to the state, such as a free trade to the Eastern world.—To shew the advantage of a free trade to the East Indies, the hon. member then referred to the first years of the Protectorate, in which period the trade was open, and flourished; and to the example of America, which derived the most beneficial results from a free trade. He had no doubt that if the people were admitted to a free trade, an event which, in case of peace, would certainly take place in all the other kingdoms of Europe, that the most advantageous results would accrue to the country 675 and to individuals. At the same time, he was anxious that the territorial revenue of the company should be allowed to them for another term of years; for though it was an anomaly in our constitution that twenty-four private merchants should possess an immense territory, and have under their control a mighty army, yet he thought it better in their hands, than that it should be transferred to the increase of the influence of the crown. He believed that his proposed separation of the commerce from the territorial revenue of the company would be as beneficial to them, as he was sure it would be serviceable to the country. Every part of the original stock was entirely gone; there had been subscribed altogether from the act of king William to the present time,7,780,000l. as the capita) stock of the company. That part of this stock which had been advanced and lent to the state, had become converted into annuities payable to the company from the state. These annuities they had acquired the power of selling or mortgaging: they had exercised such powers, and had sold them according. The remaining part of this sum of 7,780,000l. had been raised or subscribed within these, last thirty years, for the purpose only of meeting some great pending calamity to their affairs, and had accordingly been spent as soon as raised. Thus then it was of the most vital importance to the Indian stockholder as well as to the state, to devise some means of realising from the Company's means a sum equal to their capital stock; the only interest which remained to the stockholder was the term of the territorial revenue: and even utter ruin might ensue, should there arise in India any daring military adventurer. One other reason why the agreement of the Company and the government should be publicly discussed, was, that in private committees the public voice was entirely excluded, and its interest completely sacrificed. The act of 1793 was a perfect illustration of this position; the true character of that agreement was, that it was a compact to benefit the two contracting parties to the perfect exclusion of the public good. The government undertook to raise the dividends of the company, and the Company in return engaged to pay for four members of parliament, viz. the President of the Board of Controul, the two Commissioners, and the Secretary. As for the annual 500,000l. to the public, it was a mere creature of the imagination. 676 This was his own view of the subject, and he hoped and expected to receive from the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer some explanations on this matter: a matter which bad doubtless employed much of that gentleman's attention, as the consideration of it had been recommended in the Speech from the throne.
said, it was not his intention to have troubled the House on the present occasion, had it not been for the allusion made by the hon. gentleman who had just sat down, to the state of the town which he had the honour to represent. He was confident that the merchants of Liverpool expected a great alteration would be made in the arrangement of the carrying trade to and from India. It had been suggested to him that a Committee should be appointed on that subject; but that, he thought, was premature, and so he had told those that mentioned it to him. It was, however, very clear that all the out ports were violently agitated on this point; and there could be little doubt but all of them would make applications, either to government or to parliament; and he hoped they would not be precluded by agreements made between this minister or that, and the East India Company. The matter was of the utmost importance to the out ports, and he hoped they would have justice done them.
said, that the Committee on India Affairs had really brought forward a great deal of information, though it possibly might have brought forward still more. Besides the account between the East India Company and government, they had produced two very elaborate Reports, and he would take upon him to say, that any gentleman who would look into those reports, could not fail to get much information with respect to the propriety of a renewal of the company's charter. With respect to the Ninth Report, which had been alluded to by an hon. gentleman, however pointed it might have been to the subject in 1780, it was by no means so now; circumstances had varied most materially since that period; and if the House should now proceed on it, they would be very much misled by it. The Company were no party to the propositions then brought forward, but they had more than paid the 500,000l. to be paid annually, in the various disbursements they had made on behalf of government. As to the expectations of the merchants of England, he believed they were very, san- 677 guine, but feared they would be disappointed, for in the time of the Protectorate those who had fitted out ships were ruined by so doing, and the private trade now allowed to be carried on had filled the warehouses of the Company with goods that were unsaleable. The only reason why the Americans had prospered was, that they had been acting as neutrals, while we had been in a state of war. They had had a market in France, and through her with the whole continent of Europe. As to the Company paying Members in that House, he never heard of such a thing before. (Mr. Whitbread said across the table, they pay the Board.) Oh! said Mr. Grant, is that what is meant? With respect to private trade, he was certain the country could be no gainers; for whatever might be gotten by the cheapness of many articles, would be more than over-balanced by the ruin of the merchants who embarked in it.
§ General Tarleton
said, the hon. gentleman who spoke last, had predicted that the merchants who embarked in the private trade to India would be ruined; he begged only to lay in his claim that they might be indulged, and he would trust to their enterprise to carry them through. His hon. friend who began the debate, had set out by alluding to the speech of the Prince Regent at the opening of the session, and he could not avoid observing, that the House had now sat a month, and made no progress whatever towards tailing that part of the speech into consideration. He was sorry he was compelled to agree with his hon. friend in all he had stated with regard to Liverpool. He was sorry to say, that that lately opulent town had been shorn of its brightest beams; for now, whoever went along the quays, not long since crowded with every species of merchandise, would behold the melancholy and mortifying signal of a broom at the mast-head of almost every other ship, to notify, alas! that it was to be sold. Last year, not foreseeing the sudden and severe reverse which had taken place, the merchants of that once flourishing town came forward with a bill for providing new docks; but now it was one universal scene of poverty and distress. The people of Liverpool had ever shewn themselves to be an active and enterprising set of men, and he thought they were at least entitled to the same advantages from their own government as had been granted by it to the Americans.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
thought the House would find no difficulty in throwing open, to a considerable extent, the trade with India, without infringing on the East India Company's charter, or without endangering the security of our East Indian possessions. On this subject he conceived the hon. gentleman who had spoken last but one, had given a very satisfactory answer to the hon. gentleman who had commenced the debate. He rose at present merely to give expression to the surprise which he felt at the statement made by that hon. gentleman respecting the produce of the property tax at the 5th of January last; Compared with the produce of the property tax for the year ending the 5th of January preceding. He apprehended, that instead of the deficiency of 1,100,000l. of he one year compared with the other, the real deficiency would be only 289,000l. But though the produce of the year, ending in 1811, was less than that of the year ending in 1810, by the sum of 289,000l. it was at the same time to be remarked, that it was greater by 700,000l. than that of the year preceding the former of these periods. Certainly, a deficiency of 289,000l. would not warrant the hon. gentleman in the desponding views which he had taken. But it was not fair to draw such a conclusion at any rate, on a comparison of two years only, and especially a comparison of the present year with the most productive year which the country had ever known. It was also to be considered that the produce was only diminished in comparison with this most productive and greatest of all years, and that it was greater for the present year than for all former years, with the exception of the year ending the 5th of January, 1811. The increase at the 5th of January, 1811, was also in a good measure owing to those measures which had been adopted in consequence of the recommendations of the House to bring in the arrears and to levy the tax more effectually, all which measures began to operate last year, and had the effect of swelling it in comparison of the present; for the same increase could not be expected from these measures after they had been some time in operation. Comparing the whole receipts of the tax during last year and the present year together, it would be found that they amounted to 10,700,000l. for the present, and ten millions for the past year; so that if the property tax of these two years were 679 compared together, independent of the arrears recovered in each year, it would be found that the increase was rather the excess of arrear recovered in the one year over that in the other. Instead of a deficiency then of 1,100,000l. it was only 289,000l. and comparing the total receipts, there was 700,000l. more for the present year, than for the third year back. He believed this statement was not far from correct, although he might be mistaken in a small degree. As to what had been stated respecting Liverpool by the hon. gentleman, if he meant that such was the general state of trade throughout the country, he could inform him, that though the trade of the present year was less than that of the preceding, it was greater than that of any other year, and that the preceding year was greater than any year ever known.
Sir S. Romilly
said, the single question now before them was, whether a committee should be appointed or not; but the grand point to be considered, was, whether the information brought before that committee could be brought before the House itself in due time to be of any avail. That committee, as he understood, had now sat four sessions; but as yet not much information had been derived from it. The appointment of it had now been delayed near a month; and whatever might be the opinion of the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer as to the trade of the country, clear it was to him, that it had greatly decreased. He hoped, therefore, his hon. friend would persist in his motion for a committee of the whole House.
§ Mr. Brougham
thought the public had a right to be informed of the real situation of Indian affairs. It was well known that a negotiation was at present going on between the government and the East India Company, and that the matter was as nearly settled between them as it could be without a statute. All this was carried on in silence; and if it was not as good as concluded, it was in a train to be concluded, and parliament was only to be brought forward as a matter of form to put the seal to the contract. Now, there were so many facts necessary to be known before it was possible to entertain any correct opinion on the state of East Indian affairs, that he thought the production of documents alone would not be satisfactory, and that witnesses ought also to be examined. In the present state of the question, it was impossible 680 for any enlightened man to come to any conclusion, either satisfactory to himself, or safe to the country. One man one day would give you an account which should be negatived by the next man you happened to meet. He spoke from what had happened to himself; and would allude to one subject, on which he had received the most contradictory information. Would it be safe, in the extension of an intercourse with India, to allow of emigration to that country? One set of men said that nothing would be so dangerous as this measure, and that colonization and insurrection, and finally separation, were synonymous. Another set told you that these ideas were chimerical, scouted the idea of danger, and appealed to the case of the American settlements. Those persons who were averse to colonization told you, that this would be thwarting the religious prejudices of the natives. Another set said, look to the Mahometans in India, far more numerous than the Europeans will be, who were even abhorred by the natives. The Mahometans not only made proselytes of the natives, but endeavoured to extirpate them, and yet no insurrection took place. All these things were set in array against one another, so that it was impossible to come to any satisfactory opinion, without the examination of witnesses. On one point he would caution the House, and that was, against forming too great an expectation of the advantages of an extended Indian trade, as he was afraid this expectation would only end in disappointment. He wished the exportations to South America to be borne in mind. Those exportations had prevented the measures of government, during the last four years, from being so clearly felt here as they were throughout the country. With respect to the property tax, measures had been taken by government, not only to collect the arrears, but to raise the amount of the tax. It was well known that there was no part of the country where the exertions of the inspectors were not felt.
§ Mr. Lushington
shortly delivered his opinion, that this, like every other subject which turned principally upon accounts, would be better examined in a select committee than in a committee of the whole House.
§ Mr. Whitbread
felt it necessary to put several questions to the hon. member over the way, who had moved for the 681 re-appointment of the Committee. In the first place, he would ask, why, after the recommendation contained in the Regent's Speech, that this subject should be taken early into consideration, if the committee were in truth necessary, its revival had not been proposed before four weeks of the session had elapsed? Next, he wished to be informed, whether it was at all probable that the Report, supposing the committee again to be nominated, could be in the hands of members before the general concerns of the East India company were investigated on the question of the renewal of the Charter? In the third place, he begged to know whether the hon. member believed that it was possible for the committee to embrace all the necessary objects of previous inquiry, so that full and complete explanation upon them might be afforded to the House? It appeared to him, that unless the Report was in truth already prepared, and only waited the sanction of a committee, it could not be laid upon the table in sufficient time to be of the slightest use in the deliberation of the great ultimate question. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, as was usual with him whenever the slightest occasion offered, had indulged in a strain of exultation upon the present prosperous state of the country, which was calculated greatly to deceive the public: in reality, he could not avoid doing the right hon. gentleman the justice to think, that throughout the whole of his unfortunate administration, he had himself been grossly imposed upon, or he never would willingly have reduced the nation to its present condition of distress and wretchedness. An hon. gentleman, (Mr. Grant), had asserted, that during the Protectorate the mercantile interest had been reduced almost to ruin, by a free trade to the settlements in the Indian seas, and joined in a petition to have a monopoly established. This statement was perfectly correct, but did it not always happen, that when a new channel of commercial profit was opened, it was choaked at first by greedy speculators, who suffered in the attempt; but that future adventurers, availing themselves of former example, derived most important benefits from that which had proved the ruin of their predecessors? Was not this opinion verified by the experience of our own day, and were not the years, or rather months, (for it had not lasted a year) of prospe-682 rity—so much the boast of ministers, to be attributed to this cause? Was not the unbounded' spirit of speculation which had raised that part of the revenue to a height it had never before attained, created by administration and the board of trade, who bad held out a fallacious idea, that successful commerce could be carried on to various situations, when nothing but almost indiscriminate ruin could ensue? And by their means had not the Gazette been crowded with bankrupts—thus reducing whole families to irremediable and unmerited distress? If these pleasing but delusive hopes had not been held out, the right hon. gentleman would neither before have had to congratulate the country on the flourishing state of our finances, nor would he now have had to lament the rapid decline of our national prosperity. His hon. friend (Mr. Creevey) and the two members for Liverpool, had depicted in colours that could not be too strong, the melancholy condition of that once prosperous town. They had shewn that many thousands of its inhabitants, formerly gaining by their industry an easy competence, were now reduced to beggary, and were compelled to seek relief with the parish poor. These assertions the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer had not attempted to deny, and it remained a miserable sample of the fruits of that mistaken policy, which he and his supporters had from the beginning maintained. The fact' spoke for itself, and could not be controverted by the statement of figures to which the right hon. gentleman bad resorted.—The last question he had to put, and to which he thought the House required an answer, was, whether it were the intention of government to propose the renewal of the Charter of the East India company, during the present session? If satisfactory replies were not given to these interrogatories, he should feel himself bound to vote against the motion proposed.
was of opinion, that, if the report of the committee how proposed were not very different from their former statements laid before parliament, little or no useful information relating to the question of the renewal of the Charter would be obtained from it. It was true, as had been said, that these reports had produced some beneficial effect, but only to the East India Company, since upon them two loans to that Company of 1,500,000l. had 683 been founded; but they comprised no opinions regarding the great question of policy, and no examinations of persons, who, from local knowledge, could throw the faintest light upon the subject. One hon. gentleman on the other side of the House had stated, that the Report was prepared, and that it only waited the appointment of a committee, before it should be laid upon the table. If such were the fact, it would be a mere farce to accede to the motion proposed, since a committee of the House was not to be degraded to an office that a messenger could perform, that of bringing the Report into the House. With regard to the receipt of the property tax, it might be very well to compare figures with figures, the account of one quarter with the account of another; but, as statesmen, it was most fit that other matters connected with them should be taken into view; such as the misery occasioned by it, the calamities actually existing, the surcharges after surcharges, without cause, and the appeals after appeals, without redress; all creating distresses, the picture of which, however melancholy, could not be exaggerated.
hoped, if there should be any intention of opening the trade to India, that a more liberal arrangement would be made in favour of Ireland upon this head, than the one which now existed.
§ Mr. Wallace
said in answer to the first question that had been put to him, that he bad every reason to believe that a report would be soon ready to be presented, and was already in considerable forwardness. The noble lord appeared to think it extraordinary that such a report could have been prepared before the committee was appointed. This was, however, the practice in ail other committees. Some persons who possessed the best information on the subject always drew up a report first, which they submitted to the judgment and consideration of the committee to adopt or alter at their discretion. On this subject the necessary information had been previously collected, and the report would soon be presented to the committee for their consideration. He certainly was not able, in answer to the third question of: the hon. gentleman, to say that the report would embrace every thing which would be necessary to be considered on the question of the renewal of the charter. It appeared to him indeed that many of those points would not come properly from 684 such a committee. As to the last question, whether the discussion on the renewal of the Charter would come on in the present session, he could not speak positively but he thought it probable, and he hoped that it would. An hon. gentleman had objected to what he called a negociation between government and the Company on the subject; but for his part, he could not see how the subject could, according to the practice of the House, be brought forward without such negociation. If ministers previously exercised their judgment and discretion in the measure they brought forward, the House would have afterwards to exercise their judgment and discretion when the subject was submitted to them. He could could not see that there was any thing in this course of proceeding which deserved to be called a farce, or to be treated as mockery and delusion. As to the arrangement of 1792, by which the Company were to pay 500,000l. per annum to the nation, that arrangement went entirely on the supposition of the continuance of peace.
§ Mr. Creevey
rose, and said that he had intended to move, as an amendment to the motion, "that it should be referred to a Committee of the whole House." He had concluded his speech, however, without making a motion, and he wished to know whether he was now in time.
§ The Speaker
informed him, that it would be quite irregular now to move this amendment, after he had already spoken, and the discussion which had taken place.
§ The motion was then agreed to, and a Select Committee of 21 was appointed.