« VorigeDoorgaan »
November 27. 1783. Mr. Fox's East India bill was this day read a second time. The petitions against it from the courts of proprietors and directors of the East India Company were then read, and their counsel were heard at the bar – Mr. Rous and Mr. Dallas for the proprietors, and Mr. Hardinge and Mr. Plomer for the court of directors. As soon as they had withdrawn, Mr. Fox, in a long and able speech, enforcing the necessity of parliamentary interference in the affairs of the Company, moved, “ that the bill be committed.”
MR.Pırt began with remarking to the House the peculiar situation in which he found himself placed by the progress and present state of this question. I have, said he, from the eommencement of it, by every exertion in my power, summoned the attention of the House, and of the country in general, to the importance and dangerous consequences of the measure now proposed. I have pledged myself to the House, and to the world at large, to point out the dreadful tendency of this bill on every thing dear and sacred to Englishmen ; to prove its inimical influence on the constitution and liberties of this country; and to establish, by undeniable evidence, the false and pernicious principles on which it is founded. These particulars require time and deliberation, which the violent and indecent precipitancy of this business virtually proscribes. However, it is impossible to regard the very face of the bill, without feeling the strongest repugnance at its success. I desire the House to take notice, that the ground of necessity upon which the bill was originally declared to have been introduced, is now changed: that necessity no longer rests on the simple, clear, and obvious proposition, the bankruptcy of the East India company, but is this day placed on a still weaker foundation, though a foundation infinitely more fallacious, upon the temporary distress of the company. Is that a fit plea to warrant the passing of a bill, which openly professes a daring violation of the chartered rights of the company, and proceeds to an immediate confiscation of all their property ? Ought the House to be satisfied with it, even if proved beyond the possibility of question? I trust they will not; I trust the House has too much regard for their own honour and dignity,
too scrupulous an attention to justice, and too conscientious an adherence to their duty to their constituents, to support the minister in one of the boldest, most unprecedented, most desperate and alarming attempts at the exercise of tyranny, that ever disgraced the annals of this or any other country.
The right honourable gentleman®, whose eloquence and whose abilities would lend a grace to deformity, has appealed to your passions, and pressed home to your hearts the distressed situation of the unhappy natives of India : a situation which every man must deeply deplore, and anxiously wish to relieve, But ought the right honourable gentleman to proceed to the protection of the oppressed abroad, by enforcing the most unparalleled oppression at home? Is the relief to be administered in Asia, to be grounded on violence and injustice in Europe ? Let the House turn their eyes to the very extraordinary manner in which the very extraordinary bill, now under consideration, has been introduced. When the right honourable gentleman opened it to the House on Tuesday se'nnight, he urged the indispensable necessity of the measure as its only justification; and, in order to carry that necessity to the conviction of the House, he gave such a statement of the company's affairs, as to convey to the ideas of almost every gentleman present that the company were bankrupts to the amount of eight millions. [Mr. Fox here shook his head. ] I am ready to admit that the right honourable gentleman did not expressly say so; but I shall still contend, that the manner in which the right honourable gentleman stated their affairs, conveyed that idea. It has been entertained by most of those who heard the right honorable gentleman, it has been entertained by the public, and it has been entertained by the company.
The right honourable gentleman has himself confessed, he made several omissions in his former statement of the company's affairs. Omissions he certainly has made; omissions, gross, palpable, and prodigious. What is the consequence ? the company flatly deny the right honourable gentleman's statement. They prepare an .
* Mr. Fox,
account of the true state of their affairs; they produce it at the bar of the House; they establish its authenticity by the concurrent testimony of their accountant and auditor. What happens then ? The right honourable gentleman declares it is incumbent on him to clear his own character, and that can only be done by refuting and falsifying the company's statement of their affairs to the enormous amount of twelve millions. Arduous and difficult as this task is, the right honourable gentleman enters upon it with a degree of spirit peculiar to the boldness of his character. He acknow, ledges that the company's paper must be deprived of its credit some how or other ; and he proceeds in a most extraordinary manner to effect a purpose he had just told you was so necessary to himself. The right honourable gentleman ran through the account with the volubility that rendered comprehension difficult, and detection almost impossible. I attempted to follow him through his commentary ; and though it was impossible upon first hearing such a variety of assertions, to investigate the truth of all of them, and completely refute their fallacy, I will undertake to shew that the right honourable gentleman has unfairly reasoned upon some of the articles, grossly misrepresented others, and wholly passed by considerations material to be adverted to, in or. der to ascertain what is the true state of the company's affairs.
Mr. Pitt then entered into a revision of the credit side of the company's statement, and endeavoured to overturn Mr. Fox's objections to some of the articles, and to defeat the force of his observations upon others. He justified the company's giving themselves credit for 4,200,0007. as the debt from government, on the ground that as they had advanced the full principal of the sum tó government, they had a right to give themselves credit for the whole of it; and the more especially, as on the other side, they made themselves debtors for 2,992,4401. borrowed, to enable them to make the loan to government of 4,200,0001. The money due for the subsistence of prisoners in a former war, for the expenses of the expedition against Manilla, and for hospital expenses, he also reasoned upon, to shew that the company were not to blame for inserting them on the credit side of their account. The right
honourable gentleman, he said, had such a happy talent of rendering even the driest subject lively, that his pleasant allusion to the charge of one halfpenny for bread, in Falstaff's tavern bill*, when he came to take notice of the 10001. amount of silver remaining in the treasury of the East India company, had so far caught his fancy, that it was not till a minute or two afterwards that he glanced his eye a little higher in the same page of the company's account, and saw an entry of money to the amount of 142,7941. Mr. Pitt dwelt upon this for some time, and went into a discussion of the observations of Mr. Fox, upon the entry 280,575l, for bonds, which he strenuously maintained the company had a right to give themselves credit for. He also entered into a long argument respecting the sums credited for freights paid, defending them from Mr. Fox's objections. He likewise defended the entry of 253,6161. as the value of the company's houses and buildings in London, declaring, that as the company understood themselves to stand charged with bankruptcy, they feltit necessary to state the value of the whole of their assets in the schedule of the particulars of their estate. He reasoned for some time on the assertions of Mr. Fox upon the prime cost of four cargoes on their passage from Bengal, and said, notwithstanding the arguments of the honourable gentleman, that when the freight and duties were paid, there would be a loss rather than a profit on the investment, he believed the reverse would be the fact ; for he generally understood when an investment was made in India, the prime cost was at least doubled in the price the cargoes fetched in England. He
* The passage in Mr. Fox's speech, which is here alluded to, may not be improperly inserted.
“ After enumerating,” said Mr. Fox, “ their millions afloat; their millions in the warehouses : they (the company) come to the calculation of their specie, and it amounts to the sum of 10001.! This reininds me of an article in one of our great bard's best plays, where speaking of one of his best characters, it is said, “so much for sack; so much for sugar; so much for burnt hock; so much for this, and so much for that; but for the solid — the substantial — the staff of life-bread, one halfpenny! So it is with this flourishing company; they have millions of goods, of bonds, of debts; but of silver they have one solitary thousand pounds."
opposed Mr. Fox's observations on the different entries under the head of quick stock, at the various presidencies of Bengal, Madras, and Bombay, and at Bencoolen, and in China, contradicting many of them, and upholding the company in their statement. He declared he did not know what the right honourable gentleman alluded to, relative to the private debt incurred by the Madras presidency. With regard to the debts due from the Nabob Asoph ul Dowla, and the Nabob of Arcot, he said the honourable gentleman had taken such advantage of those facts to display his oratory, that the House was lost in a blaze of eloquence, and so dazzled with the lustre and brilliancy of the right honourable gentleman's talents, that they were deprived of the exercise of their sober reason, and rendered incompetent to weigh the propriety of the company's making any mention of debts, some of which they expressly declared would be lingering in their payment, and others they acknowledged to be precarious.
After going through the whole of the observations and objections of Mr. Fox, and contending that the right honourable gentleman had uniformly declined any sort of discrimination as to the different periods of time that the company's debts would come upon them, but had argued as if the whole were due at the present moment: Mr. Pitt said, the last matter urged against the company, viz.their capital, was, to his mind, the most extraordinary of any thing he had ever met with. He had often heard when traders were bank. rupts, or when it became necessary that their affairs should be vested in the hands of trustees, that it was incumbent on them to discover the whole amount of their debts to others; but he never before knew, that it was either incumbent on them to state, or necessary for the creditors to know, how much they owed themselves. Having put this very strongly, Mr. Pitt denied that there was any deficiency whatever in their capital, contending on the other hand, that the company, though distressed, were by no means insolvent, and that they ought to be allowed an opportunity of proving the whole of the statement of their affairs at the bar of the House. The right honourable secretary had accused the temerity of the company in bringing before that House the accounts of the company in