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Petition From The Merchants, &C Of Liverpool Respecting The East India Company's Charter

Volume 22: debated on Monday 23 March 1812

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

presented a Petition from the merchants, ship owners, tradesmen, and other inhabitants of the town of Liverpool, "That the Petitioners humbly beg leave to represent to the House, that by various charters granted from time to time to the East India Company, the Petitioners have for a long series of years been restricted in carrying on trade, as well with the extensive possessions of the company in the East Indies, as with the whole of the islands and territories in Africa and Asia, from the Cape of Good Hope to the straits of Magellan, and have thus, as the Petitioners humbly conceive, not only been prevented from exerting their mercantile skill and industry, and employing their capital in a manner the most advantageous to their country and to themselves, but have been deprived of those privileges which they humbly presume are the common birth right of all his Majesty's subjects, the right of carrying on a free trade to all parts of the British empire and other countries in amity with the United Kingdom, subject only to such general regulations of trade as the policy of this country may require, or as may be necessary for maintaining the relations of these realms with foreign states, and securing to government those revenues which may be requisite for its support; and that the Petitioners further beg leave humbly to state to the House, that they cannot but regard all, monopolies which prohibit the general body of the people from carrying on trade with any other country, and in particular the monopoly of the East India Company, as highly injurious to the general interests of this country at large, and as greatly discouraging that commercial spirit, which, from the nature and local situation of these islands, is indispensable to their prosperity, and upon which their security at this moment essentially depends: and that the Petitioners having therefore assembled together in a general meeting, nave resolved to appeal for a redress of this their grievance to the House, in the humble, but confident hope, that they will consider the protection of the equal rights of his Majesty's subjects to a free trade, and the extension of an honourable, just and legitimate commerce, as amongst the first and most important objects of legislative regulation; and praying, that the House will be pleased to take this subject into their most serious consideration, and that they will, at the earliest opportunity, adopt such measures for abolishing the commercial monopoly of the East India Company, as to the wisdom and justice of parliament may seem most expedient."

On the motion that the Petition be brought up,

did not rise to oppose it. On the contrary, he should be glad to see it on the table. He merely rose to correct a misrepresentation of the hon. generals, with respect to the actual situation of the people of the town of Liverpool, and to maintain that the statement which he had originally made of their distresses, was perfectly correct. He had slated, and he now repeated it, that in the course of one month only, the number of poor had increased from 8,000 to 15,000 persons. So far from his account being overstated, he was, from subsequent information, more convinced than ever of his own correctness and of the decay of trade in that town. It was most extraordinary to him how any gentleman could wish to deceive the House, when it was evident that, as he had before said, the ships were dismasted, riggers and carpenters out of employ, and the general appearance of the town such as to satisfy any person of the distresses under which the inhabitants laboured. The absence of the American trade, which constituted one of the chief props of the town, had occasioned this decay, which was felt in Chester and Manchester; also, in the falling off of the exports of salt and goods of various descriptions. To shew the vast decrease in the trade, he had a document from the customs which stated the exports for the last two years for that town. In the year preceding the last, the amount was 2,676,000l. In the last year 1,770,000l. being a deficiency of about 900,000l. between the two years ending the 5th Jan last In addition to the distress occasioned by the absence of trade, there were distresses of another kind connected with the collection, of the taxes. I He understood that an attorney of that I town, perhaps not the most eminent in his I profession, finding business not coming in, I had made application to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and got converted into an inspector of the district. In this new character he suggested to his right hon. friend, as his fellow townsmen would not employ him, that the revenue would be greatly improved by surcharging them on their assessments generally. The consequence of these surcharges was a general manifestation of discontent throughout the town, and an alarm among the collectors of taxes. The surveyor of the district finding he could not discharge the trust reposed in him faithfully under the new inspector, resigned his office, and others were about to follow, or had followed his example. This attorney perhaps had received his appointment in consequence of having been a client of the right hon. gentleman, at a period of his life when he followed the profession of the law, and therefore gratitude might have led to the appointment. At any rate, it was not to be endured that men should be induced by such appointments to become informers against their neighbours and fellow-townsmen.

had no doubt, that Liverpool felt considerable distress in common with other commercial towns throughout the kingdom. But the statements of the hon. gentleman appeared to him extremely loose, founded mostly upon hearsay, and greatly exaggerated; for he had understood from unquestionable authority, that the persons reported to be receiving charity, were not receiving parochial aid, but merely that kind of assistance furnished by what was called a soup committee. He was also enabled to state, that three or four years ago, between 7 and 8,000 persons more than the number already mentioned, had received similar assistance. As to the number of ships for sale, he had been informed from good authority, that the whole number of ships lying unemployed in the harbour of Liverpool, did not exceed 24, and of these, some were just returned from their voyages, and others were under repair. Neither was the Salt trade entirely gone, as the hon. gentleman had asserted; and upon the whole the decay of commerce in Liverpool was less considerable than might be expected, considering that it was the great mart for the American trade.

said, that having received a representation from a number of his constituents, on the subject of the statement some time ago made by his hon. friend (Mr. Creevey), he had read it to the house, on a former night, though in his hon. friends absence, and he would refer to it again if it was the wish of the House, (a cry of read! read!) The hon. general then read this Report, which we understood to come from the corporation of Liverpool; the substance of which was to the following effect: That from the extensive docks constructing at Liverpool, a number of labourers had been invited from Ireland and Wales; but the funds for the construction of the works having fallen short, a number of them had been thrown out of employment, which gave rise to the establishment of a soup committee for their relief. The Committee had, however, since found that though such numbers had at first received this assistance, there were never more than between 3 and 4,000 who really wanted it. At present, the labourers on the docks had 3s. a day; and when some gentlemen wanted to employ some of the hands in country labour in the neighbourhood, they could hardly procure them. The report then went on to state, that there was scarcely a British ship out of employment in the port of Liverpool, nor a ship carpenter out of employment who was worth it.

conceived the best mode of judging of the state of the town, would be to take the medium between the two accounts; most certainly there had been a considerable diminution in the trade. It had been stated by his hon. friend, on a former occasion, that there were 56 ships unemployed: not one half of that number, however, were for sale. When it was recollected that three fourths of the trade of Liverpool was to America, could it be thought extraordinary that there was a stagnation? He trusted that the inconvenience would be of a temporary nature only; the chief cause of the distress arose from the depression of the colonial trade.

was not disposed to place much reliance on the statement read by the hon. general; for it was well known, that in all the petty corporate towns of the kingdom, the mayor and corporation were always eager, and mostly interested in supporting the measures of the minister of the day, and were ready to proclaim them as the best possible for the interests of the country. But he could not help remarking, the great injury that must result from misrepresentations of topics of this nature, and from statements of the flourishing state of our commerce, when the fact was notoriously the reverse. If the right hon. gentleman opposite, by whom it was the misfortune of the country to be ruled, was real so weak as to believe the report of the may or and aldermen of corporate towns, and to be guided by them in forming his opinions, there was really very little chance of any relief being afforded to the distressed commerce of the country. The American trade was essentially destroyed, and whether we had an equivalent, though it had been hinted that we had, was a question which he would not now discuss. As to the shipping interest in general, if the right hon. gentleman would not listen merely to interested people, who told him that his system was the wisest and best of systems, he would learn that the shipping trade was at present a losing concern, not only in Liverpool, but in London also. The House, however, had been led to expect, that an equivalent for the defalcation of so many branches of our commerce would be obtained, and a right hon. gentleman had hinted, that a great trade was likely to be opened with Prance, by means of licences. Now, the conditions on which these licences were to be granted, he understood to be these: that we were to import French laces, lawns, cambrics, linens, and jewellery in French ships, or at least in ships belonging to countries under the power of France; and in return for these goods we were merely to export colonial produce at the rate of 5l. per ton. So that for the purpose of relieving and encouraging our manufacturers, we were to introduce French laces, lawns, linens, &c. to enter into competition with our own articles of the same description. There was also this gross inequality, that by these licences the French would be enabled to export goods of the value of S or 4,000l. per ton, while we only exported to the value of 5l. in return. How could a trade of this sort be justified? And, indeed, when talking of it to some most strenuous supporters of ministers, they seemed completely staggered by the proposition. On the subject of the collection of taxes, he differed from his hon. friend (Mr. Creevey) and was rather disposed to give ministers credit for exacting them more equally in places where too great lenity had been previously shewn. It was the duty of the government to take care that the burthens of the country should be equally borne.

in explanation, denied that he stated that the shipping of Liverpool was in a prosperous state, nor had he said that the shipping in the ports of London was so. The transports had increased from 19 to 23s. per ton. He believed he was correct in that statement; sure he was that the price of transports was considerably more than in former years. A" to the trade with France, he had stated that he had reason to believe that some trade would be opened, but to what extent he could not tell, nor indeed was the subject a fit one to discuss now.

If the right hon. gentleman will enquire at the Transport Board, he will find himself mistaken as to the price of transport tonnage.

replied, that he had enquired, and the hon. gentleman would find himself entirely mistaken in his statement.

conceived the House would not think he acted correctly, were he to allow the observations of the hon. gentleman (Mr. Creevey) to pass unnoticed. The tone and manner of the hon. gentleman, when talking of the appointment of the District Inspector of Liverpool, must have impressed on the House an opinion that he felt most warmly for some old client, as the hon. gentleman was pleased to term this surveyor, to whom he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) had owed a good turn for former favours, and therefore thought the best thing that could be done for old friendship was to get hint to surcharge his fellow townsmen, for which purpose he had appointed him to a situation in which he might carry his object into effect. So the hon. gentleman wished the House to understand. It appeared from the statement of the hon. gentleman, that this old client and new protege, so anxious to carry on his purpose, had under him a person of very delicate nerves, who, not being able to follow his superior officer in his duties, had thought I proper to resign. Now, with respect to this attorney and client, he had no knowledge whatever, but he did recollect something of the gentleman under him of delicate nerves—the same, he supposed, from whom the hon. gentleman had collected his correct information—who had been called upon to account for some misconduct, and this call had so alarmed him, that he had thought it better to resign.—He did recollect that another person was appointed upon the recommendation of Mr. Lowndes, and that person, he imagined, was the old client spoken of, but of whom he had not the most distant recollection. Now, it would become the hon. gentleman, before he roundly asserted any thing for fact, a little to suspect the accuracy of his informant, especially when that informant was a discarded surveyor. If he had made a bargain with an old client, as was insinuated, would not the hon. gentleman have acted more fairly, if he had made it the subject of a grave charge against him for an act, as unworthy a one as could be well imagined? With respect to surcharges generally, there was no intention of making any such agreement, and till the persons making surcharges were examined, it was the greatest assumption which the hon. gentleman could take upon himself to suppose they were wrong. Was it not right that persons assessed should pay their just proportion to the expence of the state; and therefore if they kept back, was it not equitable too, that they should be charged to the extent of their liability to pay? As to the general question now before the House, he would only add, that if it was injurious to deceive the country by false representations of the flourishing state of its commerce, it was equally injurious, amidst the great interests which were at stake, and the great exertions which were necessary to be made, to depress the spirits of the people by exaggerated statements of commercial distress.

denied, in explanation, that he had received his information from any discharged officer.

would merely repeat, that the information was quite new to him, of any person having been appointed to surcharge his neighbours in Liverpool. The Petition was then brought up and read. On the motion for its being laid on the table,

repeated his wish that the right hon. gentleman opposite would take this opportunity of explaining the conditions of the proposed licences. He was also anxious lo know whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer intended lo bring forward this year any proposition on the subject of the East India Company's Charter.

declined introducing a subject so extraneous to the present petition, but was ready to meet any discussion upon it that the hon. gentleman might propose.

in reply to the question of the right hon. gentleman, wished to give notice, that shortly after the recess he should bring forward a proposition on the subject of the trade with India.

The Petition was then ordered to lie upon the table.