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prating the savings of one article to the support of another; and liiac there was no doubt that the admiralty board would present a very clear state of their accounts whenever it was required, and would wish for nothing more, than the most minute enquiry into their conduct.
With respect to the charge that had been made, in regard to the unaccounted part of the money, which had been granted for the service of the year 1771, it was said, that in the hurry of the late war, many of the King's (hips had been built of green timber, so that upon the alarm with Spain, most os them had been found unfit for service; and that the overplus money had been applied to the purpose of repairs, by which means the navy was at present in a very respectable condition. After a very warm debate, the motion past without a division.
In a little more than a week after its institution, the president of the secret committee surprized a considerable part of the House, who considered the shortness of the time, and the magni
tude of the subject of
"enquiry, by a report on
the affairs of the India Company. In this report it was stated, that though the Company were much distressed in money matters, they were, notwithstanding, preparing to fend out an expensive commission of supervision to India, which would still add to that distress; and that it was the opinion of the committee, that a bill mould be brought in to restrain them for a limited time, from sending ont any such commission oi supervisors.
This proposition greatly alarmed, not only the gentlemen who were more immediately interested in the affairs of the Company, but those who considered it merely as an invasion of legal rights, and the principles of the constitution in general. It accordingly occasioned one of the warmest debates that had been known for some time.
The plea of distress was examined, and alledged to be only temporary, by a deficiency of present cash; but it was insisted, that in point of solvency, ' the Company was in the highest degree of credit. That the minister himself had admitted this fact. That the grost abuses committed in India, had rendered it necessary to, appoint a set of gentlemen, in whom the confidence of the Company, whose interest was at stake, was placed, to reform those abuses and regulate (heir affairs; by whose interposition, notwithstanding the expence, vast sums might be, and probably would be, saved to the Company; that it was a new system ot conduct, as well as mode of argument, that because people were distressed, they should not be permitted to take proper measures to retrieve their affairs; that this was a proposal for an ex post fa3o law, and was to restrain the Company from doing what was already ley gaily done; that the report was sounded upon a false principle, the alledged motive being to preserve the Company from a farther embarrassment in the present state of their affairs, by their running into; an extraordinary expence; whereas the expences of the supervision were to be paid, and paid only, out of the savings which it might be productive of in India, and
could could have no possible effect on their present distreUes at home. That the Company, notwithstanding the fall powers with which they were legally furnished, for the management of their internal affairs, and the appointment of their servants, had shewn so great an attention and deference to parliament, that though the supervisors were appointed, and the gentlemen irt readiness to depart, they had already suspended the commission, only upon hearing that the House had begun an enquiry into their affairs, and were determined it ihould not take place, till the issue of that enquiry. That the report strikes at the very charter and constitution of the Company; was unprecedented, and unparliamentary; and it was hoped would be dismissed, in such a manner, as should vindicate the honour of the House, and prevent such attempts sot: the future.
In answer to these arguments the minister declared, that no hostile intentions whatever were conceived aginst the Company; that it was the intention of parliament, and great wish of administration, to render it a great and glorious Company, and to fettle it upon the most permanent foundation; but that they were entering into a very expensive commission, at a time, that from their former misconduct, their difiresses were so great, as to put them under the necessity of applying to the public for a loan of money, and that they owed considerable arrears to government; chat it was undoubtedly the duty of parliament to preserve them from ruin; that the committee which had been appointed by the House to inspect Vm: affairs of the Co.n •
pany, have judged it expedient that a restraint ihould be Laid upon them in respect to that meaiure, and that as no restraint could possibly be laid but by act of parliament, it was necessary to bring in a bill for that purpose. Doubts were also raised in the debate (though no more than doubts) whether the Company could legally issue such a commission. If they could, it was asserted, that the Company could not give their commissioners proper and effectual authority without the aid of parliament; nor were they, under whose government all those abuses had arisen, in the least equal to the correction of them.
In order to elude the 'present temper, and to prevent the establishment ot a precedent so fatal to their rights, two gentlemen who were directors of the India Company, and then in their places as members, offered to pledge themselves to the House, that the suspension stlculd not be taken off, nor the supervisors suffered to depart, until iuch a progress was made in the present enquiry, as ihould afford full satisfaction, both with respect to the state of their affairs, and the propriety of the measure.
This proposal was rejected. It was said, that though the Company might for the present have resolved to suspend the departure of the supervisors, nothing but an act of parliament could make that resolution effectual; that they might rescind on one day, their own resolutions or measures of the preceding; that the opinion or promises of the whole court of directors could afford no security in this respect, &•> the direction was iufexiot inferior to the general courts, where' their acts were liable to be overruled by the proprietors; and that an advantage might be taken during the Christmas recess, of fending the supervisors far out of the reach of parliament. That this bill was no invasion of any charter, it was only an act to prevent a possible evil; to prevent the Company from crowning all their former extravagance, by entering into an unnecessary and ruinous expence, when they werejust upon the brink of bankruptcy.
On the other side, the whole measure, as well as the unconstitutional nature of the committee from which it originated, were condemned in the most severe and pointed terms. It was said to be neither more nor less than a bill to suspend the laws of the land; that it was subversive of rights, which the Company not only enenjoyed by charter, but had purchased from the public, for high and valuable considerations. That it disgraced the dignity of parliament, by a wanton exertion of authority, without a motive; that too many complaints were already loudly and publicly made, that every ministerial job was adopted as soon as proposed, without- regard to reason, argument, or consequences, whereby the respect and confidence, so essential to the nature of parliament, were sunk to a degree that could scarcely be paralleled in the worst of times. That administration had found out an admirable method of rendering the Company great and glorious; they began, uy plundering them, under the name of an agreement, of above two millions, and now put the last bud to the work, by taking ad
vantage of the distress principally caused by that plunder, 'to deprive them of their charter, and overthrow their constitution; first they tempt and terrify them into a ruinous extravagance of grants and dividends, and then, as a punishment, deprive them of whatever this extravagance had left. That indeed the minister was lavish in his declarations of his friendly intentions towards the Company; and these declarations must be considered as a full compensation for every thing they suffered. It wa* farther said, that this bill must be productive of the most fatal consequences with respect to the other funds, and put an end to all confidence in the public faith; and it was afleed with great bitterness, what security there could be in a country, where the royal charters, repeatedly ratified and confirmed by acts of parliament, couia gi*e no permanent establishment to property. That the argument of expence was a mere pretext to cover worse designs. That it was admitted some sort of supervision was necessary; and the objection of expence was equally applicable to any sort of supervision- As to the want of powers, it was said, that if there was any defect of that sort in the Company's charter, they might be given with equal effect to the commissioners who are legally appointed, and without any violation of the rights or charter of the Company.
To these and many other strictures, the distresses and extravagance of the Company, the necessity of observing the strictest œconomy in their affairs, together with a due regard for their welfare, which was so intimately connected
with that of the state, and a j a It attention to the security of. their creditors, were deemed in general sufficient answers; it was also infisted on, hat this measure was no invasion of their rights; and that if it had, the legislature had an unquestioned right to interfere, to prevent their running headlong to xnin. Upon a division, the question was carried by a great majority, being supported by 114 votes, against 43 only, who opposed the bringing in of the bill.
In the farther progress of this bill, a petition, couched in the strongest terms, was presented against it by the India Company; and several of their servants, consisting of the examiner of the records, the auditor of Indian accounts, the accountant general, and the fuperintendant of the custom-house accounts, were examined by the Company's desire, at the bar of the House of Commons, in order as well to sllew a true state of their affairs, as the misconduct and disobedience os their servants abroad, and the consequent neceffity of the supervision. In the course of these examinations it appeared, that the exorbitances and oppressions still continued to be committed by the Company's servants in India. Through their own imprudence, in asking needless or improper questions, a full lhare of those charges were brought directly home to some of those gentlemen who were then sitting in the House.
It appeared, that since the year 1765, the Company's expences had increased from 700,000!. to the enormous sum of 1,700,000 1. annually. It also appeared that goyernineat had received by the net
duties, the indemnity upon tea, and the stipulated 400,000 1. little less than two millions annually from the Company. That the latter had lost by the indemnity agreement, from its first commencement, at least one million, of which 700,0001, went to government, and the remainder to the purchasers. It was also (hewn, that government had profited, extraordinarily, by the Company, within the last five years, to the vast amount of 3,395,0001. viz. by the produce of the annual stipulated sum, 2,200,0001. and by the increase os the revenue, compared on a medium with the five preceding years, 1,195,0001. That the whole of the Company's receipts of dividend during the fame period, scarcely amounted to 900,0001. more than six per cent, upon its capital, which, was (he lowest trading dividend that had ever been made during the most expensive and dangerous war. It appeared upon the whole, that the Company's mercantile profits during the above period amounted, on an average, to 464,0001. annually, which would have afforded a dividend of twelve and a-half per cent, so that while government profited to the great amount we have mentioned, the Company and proprietary, instead of benefiting a single shilling, lost considerably of the dividend, which the profits on their trade only would have afforded. Thence they argued, that far from being delinquents, their merits with the public were unparalleled by any example. That the abuses committed by their servants were such as they could not prevent, because they could not foresee; that when they were known, they endeavoured
by reiterated orders from home to correct them; that they had prepared various commissions for that purpose ; one under Lord Clive; a second, which had been unfortunately lost; and a third, which, contrary to their rights, was now proposed to be rescinded. They contended, that parliament could not take this step, as being contrary to public faith. The matters of fact in the petition were slated by the evidence with clearness and precision. We have been the more particular in this detail, as it will undoubtedly excite the admiration , of future ages, to consider the power and opulence which had been once in the possession of a Company of English merchants.
A second report had been made during this time by the secret committee, which contained a long statement of the Company's affairs; of their debts, credits, and effects, both at home and abroad. It was objected that this piece was so overloaded with figures and accounts, and so full of intricacies, that it could afford but little information, (except what was taken for granted from the gross sums) within the narrow time that such information could be necessary, with respect to the present bill. This state of their affairs was considered by the Company and its friends as a very unfavourable, if not unfair, representation of them; and drew many strictures upon the committee, the darkness of its proceedings, and the doubtful information that could be obtained through such a medium. It was again lamented, that • fair and open enquiry had net been carried on, according to the happy genius and spirit of the Englim constitution, by which every
gentleman would have had an opportunity of founding his opinion upon matters as they appeared to himself, and of requiring such explanations as he thought necessary; that the time unavoidably spent in such an investigation would afford leisure for cool deliberation, and for digesting in some degree the several parts of such complicated matter; whereby random opinions and hasty reports, framed in a hurry, and without a possibility of seeing all the sides of the subject, would be precluded; and at the same time, the parties concerned would have an equitable opportunity of attending to their respective interests, clearing up doubtful points, rectifying mistakes, and the satisfaction of knowing the ground upon which measures were to be sounded, in whose consequence* they were so deeply affected.
On the other hand it was urged, that the committee had acquitted itself of its trull with the most distinguished fidelity, and had dispatched and gone through so complicated a business in less time than could be expected; which could not have been done, if the committee had been open, and subject to debate on the several articles. That it is no wonder that matters of account in such a business should appear to produce different conclusions, according to the different manner of viewing and stating them. But unless direct falsification were proved, the House must necessarily abide by the statement os those whom they had chosen for the purpose.
Upon the third reading of the bil), council was heard in behalf of the Company, after which great debates arose. It was advanced by