§ The House having resolved itself into a Committee of ways and means,
§ Mr. Huskisson
said, he had been given to understand that it was the intention of the hon. member for Aberdeen either to oppose the grant of the duties on sugar, or to propose an amendment on the vote. As, however, he himself had nothing to propose but that those duties should be continued in the usual manner, for the usual period, and at their present amount, he should reserve any observations he had to make on the subject until he had heard the objections of the hon. member. He then moved, that the several duties upon sugar granted in the last session of parliament be continued for the year ensuing.
§ Mr. Hume
said, he was reluctant, after the liberal policy which his majesty's ministers had adopted, to offer any opposition to their measures; and, unless he felt convinced that the proposition he had now to submit to the committee would, in no material degree, affect the revenue of the country, he would have refrained from bringing it forward. As, however, it related to ah article of general consumption, and as the reduction which he was about to recommend would, he be- 783 lieved, have the effect of increasing that consumption, he should proceed to call the attention of the committee to it. From what had been said with respect to tobacco, it appeared that the imposition of high duties had checked the consumption of that article. The same effect had been produced by a similar cause with respect to wine; while in both instances smuggling had been increased, the revenue had not been benefitted, and the enjoyments of those who consumed wine had been curtailed. In his opinion, the article of sugar should be looked upon in the same point of view. He thought, too, now that the attention of the House was directed towards, the relief of the people, that relief should not be confined to the dealers alone, but that the consumers should share in its advantage. The present duties upon sugar were imposed in the time of war, under the pretext of convoy charges, and they now amounted from 27s. to 30s. per cwt., according to the price of the article. No class of men had of late suffered more severely than the West-India planters. That they were entitled to such relief as could be granted them, was agreed on all hands; and he now called upon the ministers to consider whether, by reducing the duties on sugar, those persons could not be materially benefitted, while the revenue would not suffer by the measure. The immediate effect of such a reduction would be to increase the consumption, and to raise the prices; so that, in all probability, the revenue would even be improved. In many instances, duties had been imposed to a larger amount than the articles could fairly bear. The consequence of this had almost invariably been, to check the consumption; and, notwithstanding a statement which had been made in the House of Lords by one of his majesty's ministers, attempting to shew by the increased consumption of all exciseable articles, the increasing prosperity of the country, he was prepared to prove, that, in the article of sugar, the rate of duty had produced an injurious effect in the consumption. It appeared from returns which he held in his hand, that the quantity consumed had not increased since the termination of the war, in 1814. In Ireland, it seemed by the returns of the duty paid (and it was well known that there was very little, if any, sugar smuggled), that the average consumption of the years 1818, 1819, and 1820, was 222,000 cwt.; in the year 1821, it was 286,000 cwt.; and in 1822, 276,000 784 cwt. In England, the consumption in the year 1816, was 2,145,000 cwt.; in 1817, 2,900,000 cwt.; in 1818, 2,300,000 cwt.; and in 1822, it was no more than 2,400,000. Now, if it had remained stationary, or nearly so, as by these returns it appeared to have done, he took it to be a clear proof that the price was too great for a large part of the community, because the increased population would have caused a much greater demand but for the reason he had assigned. He thought, therefore, that ministers would do well to take off a part of the existing duties, if it were only by way of experiment. He would be satisfied for this purpose with a reduction of 7s. or 10s. No time could be more favourable than the present for trying this experiment; because, now that there was a surplus revenue and a sinking fund, if a loss to the amount of 100,000., or even of 300,000l. should be sustained, it might be supplied from that fund. If it were not done, he thought the House would not do their duty towards the West-India interests, by giving them a chance of recovering from the difficulties they had so long been labouring under. He might be told, that relief had been already afforded to those interests by taking off the duty on rum. That relief was paltry and insignificant. One shilling and three halfpence had been taken oft the rum imported to England, and at the same time it had been shut out from Ireland and Scotland; so that to the West-India planters the loss of those markets was more than equivalent to the advantage they were to gain from the reduction of the duty. Another great hardship to which the dealers in spirits and wines were exposed was, that they were compelled to pay duty upon the number of gallons deposited in the docks, at the time they were so deposited; although the spirits were liable to considerable waste before purchasers could be procured for them. He concluded by moving, "That 7s. per cwt. be taken off the duty on sugar," and said he was induced to propose this, not more from his opinion of the claim which the West-India interests had for relief, than from his conviction that the public would be benefited by the consequent reduction in price of an article of such universal consumption.
said, it was the duty of the House, when reduction of taxes was proposed, to look at the different classes of the community, and to apply the relief 785 where the distress chiefly existed. If he could see that the reduction of the duty on sugar would materially relieve the West-India interests, he would willingly vote for it. As, however, he did not coincide in the opinion of his hon. friend, that they had a sinking fund to throw away whenever they pleased, he could not think, looking at the state of the country's finances, that they had at present the money to spare. There were many articles to which it was much more important that reduction should be applied than to sugar. The relief which his hon. friend proposed would not amount to a penny in the pound, and in this country, where the consumption was already greater than in any part of the world—in France not one fourth of the quantity was consumed—such a reduction would neither be felt by the people, nor was it likely to increase the consumption so as to benefit the planters. But there was a subject immediately connected with this, to which he begged to call the attention of his majesty's ministers. The price of barley had of late considerably risen, and would in all probability soon reach that point at which the importation of foreign barley would be permitted. This was a prospect which could not be contemplated without considerable alarm; because, when the ports were once opened, it was impossible not to see that the influx of foreign barley would be very great, and the consequent disadvantage to the English growers very considerable. If, then, the government would, instead of reducing the duty upon sugar, permit the distillers to make use of the latter article, where they now used barley, this would at once have the effect of increasing the consumption of sugar, by which the West-India interest would be most effectually aided, and of preventing the introduction of foreign barley, which must be highly injurious to the agricultural interests of this kingdom. He put it to the country gentlemen, who were much more interested in that part of the question which related to barley, than he could be to that of sugar, to say whether the importation of foreign barley was not an evil which ought, on every consideration, to be avoided if possible. He was sure that the ministers could do nothing which would be more liberal and gracious than the step which he had suggested. The most active season for the distilleries had now begun, and would continue for two months longer; so that the 786 measure, if it should be decided upon, as he hoped it would be, ought to be adopted without delay.
§ Mr. Huskisson
said, that if he understood the hon. member for Aberdeen's observations respecting the effect of high duties on tobacco and wine, it was, that they prevented the consumption of those articles. This, however, hardly seemed to be the correct conclusion, from the statement on which the hon. member's Opinions had been formed; which were, that the high duties gave rise to extensive smuggling, and although the revenue was thereby diminished, the consumption was increased. Then, as the hon. member admitted, there was little or no smuggling of sugar, it was difficult to understand how he made the argument which he drew from the duties on tobacco apply to sugar. The same might be said of the wine duties, even if the facts assumed by the hon. member should be admitted for the purpose of argument. But, the hon. member had said that, from the termination of the war in 1814, there had been no increase in the consumption of sugar. Now this was so far from the fact, that he would assert, without the fear of contradiction, that no article had experienced an increased consumption proportioned to that of sugar, since the year 1814. He would not detain the House at any length upon this part of the subject, but it was quite impossible, after the hon. member's assertion, that he (Mr. Huskisson) could forbear to state the fact as it really stood. For the three years ending on the 5th of January, 1814, the average consumption of sugar was 2,215,000 cwt.; in 1821, it was 2,763,000 cwt.; making an increase of 548,000 cwt., or 20 per cent on the total consumption in seven years. By a document which was on the table of the House, and which would shortly be in the possession of hon. members, it would be seen that the consumption, up to January last, was 3,330,000 cwt., equal to an increase of 40 per cent on the consumption of the last nine years. In the face of these figures, he would ask the hon. gentleman, whether the high duties on sugar (and he had admitted that there was no smuggling) had checked its consumption? In Ireland, unfortunately, the circumstances of the country prevented the great bulk of the people from using this article so extensively as the people of England. But their distresses were not to be relieved by the diminution of a halfpenny in the pound 787 on the price of this, which, though not a necessary, was one of the first luxuries of life. Looking, however, to what was a mateterial point—the question of relief to the consumer—he would call the attention of the committee to the progressive increase of supply, compared with the increase of consumption. In the year 1814, the old colonies—he meant those which belonged to the Crown previous to 1792—produced an excess of supply amounting to 322,000 cwt., and the new colonies, at the same period, produced also an excess of 307,000 cwt. making together a total excess of 629,000 cwt. Since that period, the increase of consumption had amounted to 921,000 cwt., and this set off against the last mentioned amount would show that the increased consumption had more than kept pace with the increased supply. He had no reason to doubt, that if the consumption of sugar went on in the same increasing ratio which marked its present progress—and he saw no reason to expect otherwise—they would shortly arrive at that happy state of things, in which they would find the whole supply of the West Indies not exceeding the actual demand for the article in this kingdom. To show the vast increase in the consumption, they had only to look at what was its amount last year, with the foreign export of the article, and compare the total with the largest supply ever received from the West Indies in any given year. The greatest supply was 3,785,000 cwt.; the consumption last year 3,130,000 cwt., leaving a difference of between 655,000 cwt. for exportation. The export of sugar last year amounted to 137,000 cwt. more than on any former year. He found, in fact, from authentic documents, that the increased foreign and home consumption during the last year, exceeded the greatest annual supply that had ever arrived from the West Indies. In the year 1822, the average price had been only 32s. 10d., while in the last year it had risen to 34s. 7d. per cwt. The increased consumption had occasioned the augmented price. Those who were best able to form calculations on such a subject were of opinion that it was not possible that the British West-India colonies should produce a larger supply than in the last year. In the older colonies, perhaps, the tendency was to a diminution; and in the new colonies, particularly in Demerara, which had recently mainly contributed to the depression by throwing a great quantity of sugar upon 788 the market, as there was no possibility of importing new slaves, and as all the land capable of being employed in growing the sugar cane had been already so employed, there was every reason to suppose that the supply would rather be lessened in succeeding years. He apprehended; therefore, that he had already made out a sufficient case to shew that, as far as sugar and the tax upon it were concerned, it was not most urgent that the impost should be reduced. The consumption had advanced beyond all expectation; and he might here add, by way of illustration, and as a fact highly satisfactory, that this growing consumption could only be owing to the increased ease, comfort, and happiness of the great body of the community. If they had been in a state of distress and penury, they would hardly have been able to purchase the necessaries of life, much less an article of comparative luxury. It was of some interest to look at the progress of the consumption of sugar. In 1791, the whole consumption of sugar in Great Britain and Ireland was only 1,400,000 cwt., while in 1823 it was considerably more than doubled. In 1791, the duty was only 12s. 4d. per cwt. while at present it was 27s. per cwt.; so that the wealth and happiness of the people, and not the sum paid to the revenue, determined the quantity of sugar consumed. It was a fact, that no country in Europe, of three times the amount of the population of Great Britain, consumed as much sugar as was annually employed here. With regard to what had fallen from the hon. member for Taunton, that in order to give more immediate relief to the West-India colonies, the use of sugar, instead of barley should be allowed in the distilleries, all he could say was, that he should be glad in principle that the proposition should be adopted. He had no objection that it should be left to the distillers to determine from what wholesome article it best suited their interests to manufacture their spirits. It was to be recollected, however, that the distillery season, as it was called, would only last about six weeks or two months longer, and many difficulties of detail and arrangement would impede the alteration for the present: indeed, the whole season would have elapsed before the distillers could be prepared to work from sugar. At the present moment, when the ports of the kingdom were shut against foreign barley, it seemed hard to exclude from 789 the distilleries that which was grown in our own country. If the price of barley were so to advance as to occasion that of foreign and of home growth to come into competition, there might be no objection to allowing the distiller to use either barley or sugar, as best suited his own purposes. He should be happy to concur in any plan to raise the demand, and thereby to raise the price of sugar above what it now produced. He hoped that he had said enough to shew that the difficulties of the planters were likely to be speedily relieved, by increased consumption, and by the operation of those natural causes which had recently so materially assisted the agricultural interest. The West Indies enjoyed the monopoly of the home market; and though the price of an article, now grown in all tropical climates, must of course be regulated, in a great degree, by its value abroad, still he was happy to say that the British market was the best in the world. He had heard, with much surprise, the remarks of the hon. member for Aberdeen on the subject of rum. Most assuredly the West-India body, who must be supposed to know their own interests quite as well as the hon. member, considered that the proposed diminution of the duty on rum would be of material advantage to them. When it was said, that the operation of the change would be to shut rum out of Ireland, it ought not to be forgotten, that the annual consumption of that article in Ireland did not exceed 40,000 gallons, and that the native spirit of the country would always command the market. The hon. member for Aberdeen had objected to the allowance for wastage, and had contended, that at least the advantages should not be given to rum only, as every other spirit was liable to it: but, the peculiar situation of the importer, and the general situation of the West Indies, warranted this exclusive advantage. The West-Indian distiller was obliged to send it over to this country, on account of the greater evaporation in a hot climate, and the wastage was a boon to him, in order to enable him without loss to bond his rum, and to wait for a better market. In considering this question, it ought never to be lost sight of, that every shilling of the sugar duty that was reduced was an annual loss of 150,000l. to the revenue.
§ Mr. C. R. Ellis
said, that it might be expected that the West-India planters would receive favourably a proposition to 790 reduce the duty, and increase the consumption, of one of their most important staple commodities, at a moment of unexampled colonial distress. Other considerations, however, would induce them to withhold their support. The chancellor of the Exchequer had already proposed a considerable reduction in the duty on rum. He had also consented to make considerable alterations in the mode of levying the duty: which the planters held even of more importance than the reduction of the duty itself. The question, therefore, was, not whether the suggestion of the hon. member for Aberdeen would be beneficial, but whether it would be so much more beneficial than the plan of the minister of finance, as to make it worth the while of the West-India interest to relinquish a certain for an uncertain advantage. For his own part, he had no hesitation in saying, that on a fair comparison, the balance preponderated on the side of the concessions made by the chancellor of the Exchequer, If asked, whether it would not be better to obtain relief in both ways, he should say, that if the aid to be afforded depended upon the measure of the distress, the West-India body had a strong claim indeed. But there were other parties who had a right to expect a remission of taxation and the point was not whether the planters had as much assistance as they needed, but whether they had obtained their share. If more than their share were granted, no doubt other classes would raise a strong opposition. Under all their visitations and sufferings of various kinds, no class had shewn less unreasonable impatience than the West-India body; they had, indeed, put forth their just claims, but they had never pressed them with needless pertinacity, or interfered to disappoint the fair expectations of other classes of the community. It would be to depart from this system, if they were now to demand a reduction of the duty upon sugar as well as upon rum; but, if any further measure could be devised to give them relief, not at the expense of other classes, they, of course, could feel no objection to its adoption. He did not mean to offer any opinion on the policy of the corn laws; but, if it should appear, on a full consideration of the subject, that the suggestion of the hon. member for Taunton could be adopted, with benefit to the growers of corn as well as to the growers of sugar, it would be a most 791 important boon to the West-India colonies. He hoped that such a change would not be viewed with jealousy; he was aware that it might be attended with many difficulties; and he remembered that these difficulties, with regard to the collection of the revenue, were strongly urged before the West-India committee. He remembered also, how suddenly they vanished, when it was found that the government was disposed to adopt the alteration. If such a course should be found generally advantageous, he hoped that the chancellor of the Exchequer would not shrink from endeavouring to carry it into execution. Returning to the immediate question before the committee, it would be disingenuous if he did not admit, that the argument of the right hon. gentleman, derived from increased consumption, deserved considerable attention. That increased consumption had been attributed to the greater ease, wealth, and prosperity of the people; and it had been supposed, that ere long it would absorb the whole supply from the West Indies. Admitting the right hon. gentleman's premises to be correct, it was impossible to deny his conclusions, and he sincerely hoped that the relief to the West Indies might be found as speedy and as permanent as had been anticipated. If they should turn out to be so, it would doubtless be unreasonable to press the reduction of duty. He could not, however, avoid entertaining some doubt whether the rapid increase in the consumption had been produced by causes of certain and gradual operation. They might be temporary and accidental, and part, owing perhaps, last year, to the recent remission of taxes, which might not be made to the same extent next year. He was nevertheless prepared to admit, that the right hon. gentleman had made out a good prima facie case, and had fairly enough contended, that the calculation for the approaching year ought to be formed on the trial of its predecessor. If it should turn out that the right hon. gentleman was not mistaken, even though the increased consumption was not in the same ratio, he would still have a right to call upon the West-India planters to wait for the operation of the natural causes of relief. If, however, it should turn out that he was mistaken, they would then have a strong claim upon the assistance of government. For these reasons he was content that the duties on sugar 792 should remain as at present, and should therefore vote against the motion of the hon. member for Aberdeen.
§ Mr. Ellice
said, he had entered the House well disposed to support the motion of his hon. friend. He apprehended, that the small remission of duty on rum would not introduce it into general use, and doubted, with the last speaker, whether the increased consumption of sugar was owing to permanent causes. The West-India interest was certainly entitled to such relief as the surplus revenue could afford; but he should be content that the present motion should be withdrawn, if the chancellor of the Exchequer would hold out any expectation that the subject of distillation from sugar should be taken into consideration by the government. If distillation from sugar were allowed when barley reached such a price as to allow of its importation, the landed interest would have no reason to complain of the boon to the West Indies. He did not ask nor expect any pledge on the part of ministers, but merely an assurance, that there existed such a disposition to aid the West-India body. He hoped that the right hon. gentleman would consent to lay the documents to which he had referred upon the table; for a part of the conclusion drawn from them he had not clearly understood. With regard to increased consumption from supposed increased prosperity, it ought to be recollected, that the price of provisions last year was excessively low, so that the poor were able to indulge in a few luxuries: whereas, next year, in consequence of the advance in the price of provisions, they might hardly be able to purchase the necessaries of life. In the present state of the West Indies, all the assistance that could be afforded should be granted to them.
observed, that as he was more interested in the growth of barley than he was in the cultivation of sugar, his opinion in favour of allowing the distillation of sugar was at least disinterested. He did not see the slightest objection to allowing sugar to come into competition with barley, when barley could be imported; at present it was, he believed, within 5d. per quarter of the importation price; but, in the peculiar state of the West-India interests, he had no objection to the immediate admission of sugar into the distilleries [hear, hear!]. If he understood the statement of the right hon. 793 gentleman (Mr. Huskisson) the demand for sugar in the three last years had exceeded the supply [No, no, from Mr. Huskisson and others]. The right hon. gentleman had not been very clear; and certainly he and his friends had so understood the right hon. gentleman. He had come down to the House with an inclination to support the remission of duty to the extent of 7s. per cwt.; but the reasoning of the right hon. gentleman on the subject of increased consumption had led him to a different conclusion. He wished to guard the interests of the consumer as well as of the grower; and the former, in his opinion, would receive little or no benefit from the proposed reduction. The increase in the consumption of sugar had certainly shewn that the duty, high as it was, did not press heavily upon the consumer. He hoped the hon. member for Aberdeen would withdraw his motion, under the pledge that ministers would take into consideration the suggestion of the hon. member for Taunton, for admitting the sugar into the distilleries, when barley approached to the import price.
§ Mr. Huskisson
explained, that he had wished to state, that though in 1814, from the accession of the new colonies, there had been an increase of surplus supply, and though that supply had gone on increasing, the consumption had been increasing in so much more rapid a degree, that in a short time there would most probably be no surplus. With respect to the production of these accounts, he had stated nothing beyond what was to be found in the accounts before the House: he had only taken the pains to extract the accounts of the different years, to show that the consumption had been increasing more rapidly than the produce, so that if the production were, as in the distressed state of the West Indies it probably would be, checked, the demand would soon equal the consumption. As to the suggestion of the hon. member for Taunton, for admitting sugar into the distilleries when barley rose to a certain price, if there was a general feeling in the House and the country, that liberty should be given to the distillers to avail themselves of sugar under those circumstances, he would say for himself, that he saw no objection to the measure. He did not see, however, that there was any immediate relief to be expected to the West-India interest from this measure. Barley was admitted into our, ports when the 794 price was 40s., and the average was for three months, and was to be taken in May. He would then ask, whether any relief could this year be expected from an admission of sugar into the distilleries, subsequent to, and contingent on, the taking of that average? He repeated, however, that he saw no objection to the proposition, though he would give no pledge. He had no doubt, also, that his right hon. friend, the chancellor of the Exchequer, would give the proposal his best consideration.
§ Mr. Benett
, of Wilts, said, he saw no objection to the admission of sugar into the distilleries, when barley had approached the importation price. He wished, however, to assure the House, that agriculture was by no means in so flourishing a condition as many gentlemen imagined. He wished, however, to ascertain a fact much more immediately interesting to the agriculturists; namely, whether the distillers were to be permitted to convert rum into gin, now that rum was admitted at the reduced duty; if so, he understood the consumption of grain in distilleries would be at an end.
§ Mr. Huskisson
presumed the hon. gentleman was aware, that the distiller and the rectifier were two distinct callings in this country. If the question applied to the latter, it was certainly matter of great difficulty to answer the hon. gentleman, whether the rectifier should be allowed to decline the spirit in the market which had been distilled from corn by the distillers, and, by an easy process, to convert rum, the produce of a British colony, into what was considered as British spirits.
§ Mr. Benett
wished explicitly to understand, whether the rectifier was to have a power of converting rum into gin ["No, no"]. If the rectifier was in effect to have that power, it would directly destroy the trade in the spirit called gin, which was at present made from corn grown in England.
§ Mr. Bright
thought it would not be advisable, at the present moment, to press for the reduction of duties; but as to the suggestion, that sugar should be admitted into the distilleries when barley reached a certain price, he thought it would be most desirable that it should be adopted, to show the attention of the House to the West-India interest, and to conciliate the feelings of those of the colonists who, from their great distress, might be apt to entertain feelings of irritation towards 795 England; He advocated the proposal, more as a mark of the attention of the House to any possible mode of relieving the colonists, than from any hope that by means of it a large quantity of sugar would actually be consumed in the distilleries during the present year. He confessed he did not look at the prospect with respect to the West Indies with anticipations so sanguine as those of the right hon. president of the board of trade; but, under the circumstances that had been stated, he should not now press for the reduction of the duty on sugar. Yet there were claims of the colonists which demanded the attention of the House. By the reduction of the duties on spirits distilled in Scotland and Ireland, rum had been excluded from the consumption of those countries. Now, the producers of rum had a clear right to be placed in the same relative situation to the distillers of corn spirits, that they were accustomed to stand in, in Ireland and Scotland. It was said, that there was no consumption of rum in Ireland. But this did not matter. If there was no consumption, the reduction of the duty on rum there would do no harm; and whatever the consumption was, it was an act of justice to put rum on the same footing, in relation to corn spirits, in which it had formerly stood. There had been a consumption of rum in Scotland formerly; but, owing to the alteration in the distillery duties of that country, the consumption had greatly declined. He conceived it to be the duty of the House, so to arrange the duties as to give the West Indies the benefit of both markets.—From printed documents it appeared, that, in 1807,rum was the spirit almost exclusively drank in Scotland. It was idle, therefore, to say that it had become disused on account of its being unhealthy. When the duties were cheaper, the Scotch consumed more rum. He remembered the time when the whole consumption of that country was brandy, rum, and Geneva; but rum was its favourite liquor. Why had it ceased to be so? Because, owing to the scale of duties, whiskey had become so much cheaper. On the part of the government, there had long been (and very properly) a growing disposition to encourage British spirits; but that disposition ought not to be carried too far. The right hon. gentleman had said, that in Ireland the poorer sort of people did not use sugar, and that it would be of little avail, therefore, to 796 take off the duties upon it in that country; but upon that matter he differed from the right hon. gentleman. He thought it would be well that they should have some luxury of easy attainment offered them; for the desire to possess it might induce them to lay by money for its purchase, and thus produce habits of economy and industry. Agreeing, upon the whole, that this duty ought not at present to be taken off, though he was, at the same time, anxious that rum should be put on the same footing that it formerly stood on, with respect to the markets of Scotland and Ireland, he would not support the motion of the hon. member for Aberdeen.
Mr. Frankland Lewis
thought, that every thing which the hon. gentleman who had just spoken had said about rum, applied with much greater force to gin. The hon. gentleman did not seem to be aware of the state of the countries he alluded to, in respect to the preference they now gave, or had given, to liquors; for gin, and not rum, had been the drink of Scotland at the period in question. The West-India interest need feel, however, no anxiety either about Ireland or Scotland. In Scotland, the consumption of rum was very little; and in Ireland whiskey was distilled to such an extent, that nothing was to be apprehended from a mere nominal reduction of duty. Let no one suppose that the whole duty of 5s. 6d. had ever been collected on that spirit. It was so universally evaded, that at no time was more than 2s. 6d. per gallon collected; so that the present real duty of 2s. 6d. was just as heavy as it ever had been. As to the expressions of approbation with which he had heard so many gentlemen greet a proposition to allow distillation from sugar, whenever the price of barley should be so high as to admit of the opening of the ports, he begged to be understood as by no means concurring in it. If a pressure was felt by one class, and it was proposed to relieve it, could any thing be more unfair or improper, than to put it on the shoulders of one interest alone, instead of distributing the burthen equally over all? Why were the barley-growers exclusively to be pressed upon, because the West-India interests were to be relieved? the duty on rum had been diminished; the only way in which this could benefit the West-Indians, was by an increase of the consumption; and every gallon of rum consumed was a gallon- 797 taken from the quantity of British spirits to be sold. Had they not now brought the duty on rum to the level of that on British spirits [No!]? At least it nearly approximated to it; and in proportion to the increase of its consumption, who were the sufferers? The barley-growers. It was now proposed, when barley rose to the importation price, to admit sugar into the distilleries. Who would suffer by this? The barley-growers; for it was well known, that when the ports were open, there was always a very small quantity of barley imported. Was it no evil to the corn-grower to be exposed, when the price of grain rose to a certain height, to the competition of foreign corn; and would it not be an additional evil, if, besides the competition of foreign corn, he had also another competition to encounter from sugar.
§ Mr. H. Sumner
said, he would give the motion his decided opposition, though he trusted that the hon. member for Aberdeen would be induced to withdraw it. Among all the classes of British subjects who had felt the pressure of agricultural distress, none had sustained a heavier burthen than the West-India colonists; and there was none with which he more sincerely sympathized. But as to the proposition, that sugar should be admitted into our distilleries when barley was at a certain price, and such as would open the ports to the importation of foreign corn, he really thought it might be a fair question, whether the benefit here suggested should be given to the sugar-planter or to the barley-grower. Of the two interests he should be disposed to give the preference to their own agriculturists, He concurred with an hon. gentleman opposite in thinking, that the West Indies could only by slow degrees be restored to their former prosperity; and therefore he hoped the House would not be led away by any prospect of immediate, but imaginary advantage to those colonies.
expressed his belief, that no speedy relief would be afforded to the West-Indians, from the reduction of the duty on rum, on account of the great quantity now in bond.
§ Mr. Manning
thought the proposition for the admission of sugar into the distilleries, previously to the opening the ports to foreign barley, so clear that every one would assent to it. All that was contended for was, that sugar should come into 798 the distilleries after British, and before foreign grain. The right hon. president of the Board of Trade had, he thought, underrated the value of this measure, as there were cargoes constantly arriving from the West Indies, on the prices of which it would have an effect. Though the table was not covered with petitions from the West-India proprietors, no class was more depressed. He had known many cases in which the returns of the estates would not support the expense of the negroes.
§ Sir. I. Coffin
thought, that his majesty's ministers had shewn great liberality towards the West-India interest.
said, that in consequence of the situation in which our colonies in the West Indies were placed, and the important subject which was about to come under the consideration of the House, he did not think it prudent at the present moment to renew the motion which he had submitted to the House in the last session.
§ Mr. Hume
, in reply, contended, that the consumption of sugar in this country had by no means kept pace with what we had a right to expect. It had been said, that the West-Indians were likely to understand their own interest better than other persons; but he could not help thinking, that they laboured under a complete delusion with respect to the present question. There could be no doubt that the immediate effect of a reduction of the price of sugar would be a great increase of consumption; but, if the price were to rise, the consumption would necessarily be reduced, and the difficulties under which the West-India interest was labouring would be greatly increased. He contended, notwithstanding what had fallen from the hon. member for Taunton, that the reduction of these duties would operate a great relief to the West-India interest. But he had not brought forward the motion merely on account of the West-India interest. If they were determined not to receive relief, he did not wish to press it upon them; but, on behalf of the consumer—on behalf of the people of England—he felt it right to call for a reduction of these duties. The consumption of this commodity, instead of increasing with the increase of population, had remained nearly stationary during the last three years. He was quite aware that it was useless to press this measure, since those who were most in- 799 terested in it, as well as his majesty's ministers, were opposed to it. He was glad however to hear, that his majesty's government were disposed to allow distillation from sugar, when barley should reach a price which would open the foreign market. This measure would operate most beneficially to the West-India interest, and prevent the evil arising from the sudden change from one extreme to the other on the opening of the ports. If no benefit resulted from his motion, he should not regret that he had brought it forward. Under all the circumstances, however, he felt it would be useless to press it upon the House, and he therefore begged leave to withdraw it
§ Mr. A. Grant
said, that if, when the time arrived that it would be advisable to distil from sugar, the measure was not brought forward by his majesty's ministers, he trusted the hon. member for Aberdeen would himself originate it.
said, it appeared very extraordinary that the West-Indians should have one and all opposed the motion of his hon. friend the member for Aberdeen. He had reason to believe that there was a secret understanding on this subject between the West-India interest and his majesty's government and as a West-Indian, he felt if, honest and right to state the fact. The bill granting a remission of 3s. in the duty of 30s. on refined sugars, would expire on the 4th of July, and it had been hinted by the government to the West-Indian body, that if they persisted in pressing for a reduction of the duties, this bill would not be renewed. The question having been put, whether they would prefer a reduction of the duties on rum, or on sugar, they had preferred the reduction of the duties on rum. The remission of 3s. in 30s. of the duty on refined sugars was neither more nor less than a bounty; and he would ask his majesty's ministers, with what consistency they, who were day after day insisting on the expediency of free trade, and who had taken away the bounties on linen, could come forward to grant an additional bounty to the West-India interest? He should feel it his duty to oppose the renewal of the act to which he alluded, though he should personally derive advantage from it; because such a measure was directly opposed to the principles of free trade, on which his majesty's ministers professed to act. The West-India interest was greatly indebted to the exer- 800 tions of his hon. friend the member for Aberdeen. It was to those exertions, he believed, that they were mainly indebted for the reduction of the duties on rum, to which the government had been this year induced to accede.
§ The amendment was then withdrawn, and the original resolution was agreed to.