HL Deb 28 April 1812 vol 22 cc1077-80

Lord Grenville presented a Petition from Bristol, praying that their lordships would not consent to a renewal of the exclusive privileges of the East India Company. The Petition was read by the clerk. Upon which

Lord Grenville

said, that in rising to move that this Petition do lie on the table, he could not avoid recalling their lordships' attention to what took place on a former evening respecting the intended discussion on the great national question to which the Petition referred. They were told it was intended to bring forward these discussions at an early ensuing period this session. They were all agreed that the question was not only of the greatest importance to the commercial interests of the country, but involved, at the same time, some of the highest interests on which the British legislature could be called upon to deliberate. This subject, great and extensive as it was, he held it would be utterly impossible, were they to confine themselves even to the commercial part of the question, to discuss in a fit and proper manner, such as its importance required, in what remained of the session. The subject was recommended to the attention of parliament from the throne at the beginning of the session. Four months had now elapsed without a moment of time being bestowed upon it: but now, when they were told the subject was very nearly ripe for consideration, their lordships were expected to remain in the same state of utter inactivity, with respect to it, waiting until they should receive lessons from the other House of Parliament on the subject, and until it was brought before them in the shape of a Bill. A noble friend of his had suggested a mode of proceeding, in which the subject could be brought before both Houses of Parliament, where the functions of the one House could not be necessarily excluded until the other branch of the legislature had taken its final leave of the business, but a mode and system of deliberation in which both Houses could reciprocally afford light and assistance to each other. He trusted some one of his noble friends would come forward this session, and bring the subject before the House in the shape of Resolutions, involving the consideration, whether, on just grounds, the trade, not only to the East Indies, but to every other part of the globe, should be prevented from becoming general, or confined exclusively to any part of the kingdom. In this train of discussion, he trusted they all wished to see it; and he again expressed his hope, that some noble lord would, were it not done by the King's government, bring the subject before the House in the shape of Resolutions. His lordship concluded by moving, that the Petition do lie on the table.

The Earl of Buckinghamshire

averred that his Majesty's government entertained the strongest desire and the most determined resolution, to propose nothing to parliament which they were satisfied in their own minds was, upon this great occasion, not conducive to the general interests of the country. His noble friend and the House were aware, it was a subject which involved such a collision of interests, that there could be no intention on the part of his Majesty's government to precipitate the discussion of the measure. With respect to the particular course of proceeding to be adopted, a variety of opinions might arise; but, with respect to those avowed by his noble friend on that head, he would beg to look to what was his own conduct on a similar occasion, while forming a part of the then government. He surely would not pretend to state that the subject was not equally important in the year 1793 as it now was. At that time, his noble friend discharged his duly in the manner he thought most advantageous for the purpose, when he pursued a course directly the reverse of what he now recommended. He was sure, if consistency were to be found in any individual, his noble friend could not object to the adoption of a similar course on the present occasion.

Lord Grenville

must protest against any comparison of the importance of the question in 1793, and at the present period. At that time there did not exist that great, immense, and extensive difference of opinion which now evidently existed. The question then was, whether it were proper to continue, for a limited time, the system then in existence. At present the strongest difference was manifested, as appeared by the numerous Petitions and applications to the legislature from every part of the country. Those who, on the former occasion, were of opinion that no change ought to be made, might have considered the period of the session at which they came forward, abundantly sufficient for agitating the operation; in that point of view might, on the same principle, now consider a similar period for discussion totally insufficient. Whatever the difference of opinion might be upon almost all other points, they were all decided that a great and effectual change must take place in the whole system; a consideration which would bear no comparison with the mere question of continuance. But there was another consideration which it was impossible any noble lord could overlook, namely, that which was presented by a view of the distresses of the country, by the cries and lamentations of their fellow subjects for opening new markets, when the trade and commerce of the country were in the lowest and most distressed situation ever known—a situation to which the weak and wretched policy of ministers had reduced them.

The Earl of Liverpool

said he must be allowed to observe, that there was no disposition whatever, nor any reason to suppose there was, on the part of the King's servants, to avoid any course of proceeding that would give to parliament and to the country the fullest opportunities of deliberating on the subject in question. Even if the course adverted to was adopted, it would still be at the option of any noble lord to bring forward any of the great branches of the subject under separate discussion. With respect to what was said of the occasion in 1793, if he were not mistaken, there were also at that time the strongest representations from all the manufacturing towns, soliciting that the trade might then be thrown open to the country at large; and an arrangement had been proposed, by which it was thought that considerable benefits in the way of trade might be derived by individuals through the medium of the Company. He was far from being insensible to all the difficulties and dangers of the present moment; but this was the first time he ever heard the year 1793 pointed out as one of great prosperity. On the contrary, it might be doubted, whether there was ever a period in which the universal commercial distresses of the country were greater than at that very period.

The Earl of Lauderdale

contended, that a great and striking difference existed in the state of the question at present, and at the period of 1793. They had not then, as now, a prospect of India being a burthen upon the finances of the country. A noble marquis, then in his eye, had most ably demonstrated the great benefits which would result from a free trade to India; the military and political parts of the question also constituted an essential difference. Neither was there any comparison between the state of this country at the period alluded to and at the present time.

Earl Grey

observed, that ministers continued to say, that there was every disposition on their part that this most important subject should have the fullest discussion, but still they delayed bringing forward any measure relating to it. Not even a notice had yet been given as to when it was to be proposed, whilst the session was advancing to so late a period, that there would be a moral impossibility of giving the subject that deliberate discussion which its extreme importance so urgently demanded.

The Petition was then ordered to lie on the table.