HC Deb 13 May 1824 vol 11 cc730-41
Mr. W. Whitmore

rose to bring under the consideration of the House, the subject of which he had given notice: namely, the Drawbacks, or Bounties, which were paid on the exportation of Sugar. His object was, to procure the appointment of a select committee, to consider the question; and he trusted that he should make it appear to the House, that such a measure was called for by peculiar circumstances. It would be necessary for him, at the outset, to show how the affair stood. In the first place, the West-India interest possessed a monopoly of sugar in the English market against all other countries in which sugar was produced, with the exception of the East Indies. But the sugar which was imported from the East Indies paid a duty of 10s. more than that which was imported from the British West-Indies. The sugar imported from the West-Indies paid a duty of 27s. per cwt. when the price was under 47s., and of 30s. when the price was above 47s.; therefore, the sum which constituted the difference between the high and low duty was only 3s., which he considered too little. It happened that when sugar was exported to the continent, it received a drawback, not commensurate with, but greater than the duty which it had on importation, to the extent of 3s. A bounty of 3s. was there- fore given on exported sugar. This fact could not be denied; but that was not the whole of the question. The sugar which was exported was in a refined state, and received a further drawback. In the process of refining, a considerable quantity of molasses was necessarily abstracted from the sugar, and the weight was therefore diminished. For instance, 112lb. of sugar yielded only 56lb. of refined sugar, when prepared for the home market. But he was informed, that when the sugar was intended for exportation, it was not sufficiently refined; but a considerable quantity of molasses was left unextracted from it. The consequence was, that instead of 1121b. of raw sugar yielding only 561b. of refined sugar, that quantity generally produced from 60lb. to 65lb. The price of molasses in the market was from 25s. to 30s.; therefore there was an enormous profit on the exported sugar, which, as he had shown, contained several pounds of molasses which ought to have been extracted. After reaching the continent, the sugar underwent another process of refinement, to fit it for the market there. It would be a material point for the committee to consider the effect produced upon the home market by the continuance of the bounties. The consumption of sugar in Great Britain, in 1823, was 1,130,000 cwt. The excess which was exported was 560,000, upon which the public paid a bounty of 168,000l. The principle of abolishing bounties had been adopted recently with regard to Ireland and Scotland; and he had yet to learn either the justice or the policy of continuing them upon the exportation of sugar. He was aware that he should be told of the distressed state of the West-India interest. He acknowledged the existence of that distress; but he felt that it was his duty, as a member of parliament, to endeavour to point out the causes which produced that result, in order that it might be ultimately removed. In considering this part of the question, it was necessary to ascertain, whether the distress which existed in the West-Indies was of a temporary or of a permanent nature—whether it was likely that it could be removed by palliatives, or whether it had its root in the system itself upon which the West-Indies were conducted, and whether it would not be necessary to change that system altogether, before any good could be effected. He would read to the House a few statements, which would prove that the distress in which the West-India interest was at present involved was not of a novel but of a permanent nature. In 1792, Mr. Bryan Edwards had said, "The great mass of planters are men of oppressed fortune, consigned by debt to unremitting drudgery in the colonies, with a hope, which eternally mocks their grasp, of happier days, and a release from their embarrassments." In 1785, Mr. Tobin declared, that for "one planter that lives at his ease in Great Britain, there are fifty toiling under a load of debt in the colonies." A report of a committee of the House of Assembly at Jamaica, in 1792, contained the following passage:—"In the course of 20 years, 177 estates in Jamaica have been sold for the payment of debts; 55 estates have been thrown up; 92 are still in the hands of creditors; and 80,021 executions, amounting to 22,563,786l. sterling, have been lodged in the provost's office." Another report, made in 1804, after describing a state of great distress, states, that "a faithful detail would have the appearance of a frightful caricature." Again, in 1807, another report contained the following passage:—"The sugar estates lately thrown up, brought to sale, and now in the court of Chancery in this island and in England, amount to about one-fourth of the whole number in the colony." Similar facts were stated in a report which was made in 1811. All these testimonies proved, that with regard to the West-Indies, distress was the rule, and prosperity the exception. Experience had proved, that in every age, and in every part of the world, such a state of things inevitably produced the depopulation of the country in which it existed. The reason why such a result had not occurred with respect to the West-India colonies was this—that they were possessed by a country abounding in riches and capital, a portion of which had been continually pouring into them. The state of the West-India colonies was more deplorable than that of the most wretched and inhospitable parts of the world. Even in Lapland, prosperity was the rule, and distress the exception; the reverse was unfortunately the case in the West-India colonies.—These were the grounds which had induced him to look into the question in the manner he had done, and he should now proceed to state the causes from which, as it appeared to him, principally arose the distress of this branch of trade. These were—the absence of the proprietors of the estates, mortgages, consignments to mortgagees, and the expense in the system of management, in consequence of having the estates in the hands of overseers, instead of being in the hands of the proprietors themselves. These were all, in their different respects, materially important, but still only subservient to that great cause upon which all the rest depended. He would not disguise from the House his sincere opinion, that this main cause of distress and misery was the system of slave-labour. He was well aware of the difficulties which any man had to encounter who touched upon this subject, and how difficult a thing it was, to obtain a favourable hearing; but, however unfavourably he might be received, he must discharge what he felt to be his duty, and without meaning to enter at very great length, endeavour to place, by a few facts, the opinion he entertained in an obvious point of view. He had already stated, that the principle distress arose from the principle of slave-labour. That slave-labour was always of necessity more costly than free, was not stated now for the first time: it had been invariably recognized as true, by all who had examined the subject, unbiased by the influence of interest; and he should endeavour to shew the similarity which our colonies bore In this respect to different countries at different periods, with a view to prove that the statement was correct. The greater expense of slave-labour proceeded upon this principle—there must be some inducement to make men work; labour was not natural; there must be either some feeling of interest, or some principle of coercion. Now then, which will, interest or coercion, produce the greater quantity of labour? When a man works, influenced by a feeling of interest, he endeavours to accumulate a fund to provide for the wants of old age and infancy, and which he superintends with care and diligence: but, in the other case, it is far different; for when a fund is left at the disposal of managers, it is generally regulated without any attention to economy.

This was the general principle; and having shewn the view he took of the subject, he did not feel it necessary to go further into this part of the subject, but be should endeavour to illustrate his principle by example. Now, let any man who was at all acquainted with the nature of agricultural labour employ a man to work by the job, the day, or by compulsion. Do we not know, that with the first, the man works with all his zeal and power and energy; that in the second, his exertions will be smaller; but that in the third, his labour, as compared with the other two cases, will not only be very deficient in quantity, but in quality? The subject was so abundant in instances, and they presented themselves from so many quarters, that his embarrassment consisted, not in the scarcity of examples but the difficulty of making a selection. Now, he would first refer to ancient Italy; and there he found that the writers on rural economy traced the decline in the prosperity of the country to the system of slave-labour. The same thing was to be remarked in the United States of America. In the northern parts of that extensive country, labour was free, whilst in the south it was done by a slave population; and it had been remarked, that the moment you pass the boundary by which the country was so distinguished, the difference became immediately perceptible. In the north the farms were small, the farm-houses comfortable, and a general air of comfort seemed to prevail: the lands appeared to be in a slate of fertility, and were managed with every attention to economy. But when you crossed the; boundary, you found a state of things exactly the reverse: labour itself sickened and drooped under the influence of slavery [hear, hear !]. The slave-owners, it was true, lived in a state of magnificence, but then they were surrounded by the miserable hovels of the unfortunate slaves, who cultivated the soil under their direction. It was also a matter of considerable importance, as affecting the value of land. For instance, in Virginia and Pennsylvania. In Pennsylvania, where labour was free, the value of land was one-third higher than in Virginia. In Maryland, in the lower part of which slave-labour was carried on, the distinction was still greater.

To follow this up with all the instances he could adduce, would occupy too much of the time of the House; but, before he quitted this part of the subject, he begged to call the attention of the House to one particular instance, which was, in his judgment, entitled to the fullest consideration. The case had been alluded to before in that House, and nothing, as it appeared to him, could be so conclusive. He meant the case of the hon. Josias Steele, of Barbadoes. This gentleman's estate yielded him a very small return upon which he lived in England: finding himself embarrassed, he went over to the colony, with a view to ascertain whether there was any thing in the system which tended to produce the distress in which he found himself involved. Being a gentleman of a comprehensive mind, and not likely to be affected by the prejudices necessarily springing out of a state of slavery, he turned his attention to the system. He had a property of 1,060 acres and 288 slaves, amongst whom, in the space of three years, there were 15 births, and 57 deaths. Immediately on his arrival he proceeded to take measures for the amelioration of his slaves. He introduced a system of having negroes tried by negro courts, and abolished whipping; and the consequence of these wise changes was, that in the space of four years and three months from the introduction of the new system, the number of births was 44, the deaths 41, and, with respect to the improvement of his estate, the nett amount of his profit was increased more than treble. So that here we find the consequence of this judicious course of policy was, an increase of births, a decrease of deaths, and an augmentation of property [hear, hear !].

Under circumstances of freedom, if property be secure, the effect must be, to accumulate the national wealth, and promote the national prosperity. Look to that interesting colony on the shores of Africa, Sierra Leone; and he alluded to it particularly, because its internal constitution was the same as that of our West-India colonies; and he was sure that any one who examined its condition would discover a degree of comfort, a rapid progress of wealth and civilization, and of that moral wealth which distinguished man, such as was not surpassed in any other country in the world. He would beg to turn the attention of the House to the amount of duties which were annually received there. He had a return from 1812 to 1823, but he should not trouble the House with going through the entire. However, he found that the produce of the duties amounted in the year 1812 to 1,922l.; in 1813 to 1,538l.; in 1820 to 6,153l.; in 1821 to 6,314l.; in 1822 to 4,764l.; but in 1823 the duties amounted in three quarters to 6,939l.; and if the other quarter was in the same proportion,: it would be more than double what it had been in 1822. This, then, proved a considerable increase of trade; and public buildings, churches and other improve- ments were going on rapidly. Their trade was extending in the interior of Africa, and persons from the river Niger came to trade with this very interesting colony, and carried away its various productions. Why then, when we saw such beneficial effects flowing from a system which was not clogged with restrictions, or prohibitions, or monopolies, why should we not expect the same effects, if the same causes were put into operation in other colonies? The next document to which he should refer, related to the state of trade in Hayti, which was drawn up by one of the secretaries of state belonging to that island; and this would clearly demonstrate that Hayti was making a progress to prosperity no less rapid than the country to which he had just alluded. He did not mean to trouble the House by enumerating all the items in this long document; but there were some of the statements it contained to which he prayed particular attention. In 1822, the number of ships employed in the import trade amounted to 1,135, the tonnage was 121,474, the amount of the cargoes was 13,017,890 dollars, the duty to the state amounted to 1,477,178 dollars. In the export trade, the number of ships employed was 700; the tonnage 78,769; the total value of the exports of their various commodities was 9,020,397 dollars, and the total duty on exports was, 1,365,402 dollars. The state of Hayti was in the enjoyment of freedom and security, and there was no reason to infer, that the same results would not follow a similar system, whenever it might be introduced. He held another document in his hand on the same subject, and he was sorry it was in the French language, because he was prevented from reading its contents to the House; for it exhibited the most delightful picture of the prosperity of the people, and demonstrated in the most conclusive manner, the advancement of the country in agriculture.

He was aware that he had trespassed too long upon the attention of the House [hear, hear!], and should immediately come to that part of the question which it would be expedient to consider, provided the sum now paid on the export of sugar should be devoted to promote the prosperity of these islands. What he should propose was, that the sum raised upon the people of this country (and which he should be able to prove, if the House would grant him a committee), should be devoted to promote the great object of emancipation. He did not mean to propose any violent change in the present system. He was persuaded, that the easiest means of facilitating the object would be that proposed by the right hon. gentleman opposite (Mr. Canning) in one of his resolutions respecting Trinidad; namely, that the slaves should have one day in the week allotted to them to raise a fund by which they might ultimately be enabled to purchase their emancipation. This, he thought, would be a measure of wise policy; and, if a sum of money could be raised equal to that now levied on the people, the effect would be, to promote, to a very great degree, the emancipation of the slaves, whilst at the same time it would confer a great benefit upon those who received the purchase money, and would also abolish that system from which their distress arose [hear, hear!]. There were various other ways in which such a fund might be rendered available to the object, but he should not trespass longer on their patience. He would implore the House to grant the committee for which he meant to move, not with a view to go into those points to which he had alluded latterly, but specifically to inquire into the operation of these bounties, in order to ascertain, whether the view he had taken of the subject were correct, and whether this sum was or was not raised on the people as he had stated it. That fact being proved, it would be a subject for further consideration, in what manner so large a sum could be most beneficially applied. He wished distinctly to have it understood, that he proposed to limit the inquiry to the object he had stated, and if his opinion should be corroborated, it would be seen that there existed a system quite at variance with those principles of free and unrestricted trade, upon which the government professed to act. He should now conclude by moving "That a select committee be appointed to inquire into the Bounties paid upon the export of Sugar."

Mr. Huskisson

said, that so large a portion of the able dissertation of his hon. friend had been addressed to the great question of slavery, and so small a portion of it to the very narrow question of which he had given notice; namely, the drawbacks on the exportation of sugar, that he thought the House would agree with him in thinking, that it would have been much more properly addressed to the House, when the great question was under their consideration, if his hon. friend was not prepared with some practical measure to be introduced in the present session with reference to this portentous question, and all the important considerations growing out of it. After the feeling which had been generally expressed on the subject in that House, and the mode in which it had been determined to approach it, he thought it would have been much better if the hon. member had left the subject to the executive government, and not have agitated a question which was fraught with such fearful consequences. His hon. friend had stated at large his abstract views, founded upon moral considerations, as to the relative value of compulsory and of free labour; which latter he had again subdivided into work by task and work by day. In the general principle it was impossible not to agree; but, for the reasons he had stated, and in which the House seemed to concur, he must repeat, that this was not the proper time, nor the proper mode, for such discussions: and he had further to complain of his hon. friend, for having shaped his motion in such a was as that the House were taken by surprise, and had not come down prepared for the discussion of this important subject; and also, having discussed it, for not coming forward with some practical measure. It would not, therefore, be expected that he should follow his hon. friend through his details; and he should confine himself simply to that small portion of the question which was embraced in his motion. His hon. friend said, that the condition of the West Indies was most unfortunate; that distress was their natural state, and prosperity the exception; and then he had referred to the history of Jamaica by Mr. Bryan Edwards; so that if he were to follow his hon. friend, he should have to trace the history of that country for the last forty years from the period of their prosperity, into which they had been speedily raised by the great convulsion at St. Domingo, down to their subsequent distress, occasioned, perhaps, by that very sudden change. But, he would take simply the premises of his hon. friend, and admitting that the distress existed, without going into the causes of it, he might even admit, that cultivation by slaves might have aggravated the difficulties; but, admitting all this, he would ask his hon. friend, whether it was wise to select precisely the moment of their distress, to deal out a measure, the immediate effect of which must be, even according to his own view, to aggravate this distress? His hon. friend, sanguine as he was—and God knew how heartily he wished his hopes could be realized—must at least admit, that although, perhaps, there existed a facility for a change from slave labour to free, yet still it was not a thing of a moment: he knew—he must know, that the amelioration of the state of the colonies must proceed upon other and different grounds from a sudden emancipation. His hon. friend must be aware, that before these salutary advantages could be obtained, all the aids of improved moral intelligence, all the motives to good action, must be well inculcated and well understood, before they could hope to secure for the slave-population that benefit which a change in their condition was intended to realize for them. He was convinced that if his hon. friend would look with more care into all the details of calculation which the subject involved, he would find himself much mistaken in many of the essential parts of his estimate, and necessarily wrong in the conclusions which he drew from them. If these errors had entered into his calculations, why call for their correction by the appointment of a committee? It was a dry matter of fact, capable of elucidation without taking any such course; and being so, no parliamentary ground had been laid for the appointment of a committee, which, in the present state of the West-India interests, was calculated still more to embarrass those engaged in the trade, in all their fiscal and pecuniary arrangements. The sense of parliament having been already expressed upon the great general West-India question, and it being understood that it was to be left to the consideration of the executive government, and intrusted to their responsibility, he thought it would be wise not to deal with it by incidental debates either in or out of committees, but to leave it where it could be most practically' viewed. When his hon. friend said, that, by his proposed arrangement, a fund for the emancipation of slaves might be created, amounting to no less than 1,100,000l., he again greatly overshot the mark; for the actual amount of the difference to which he had alluded, as paid into the Exchequer, did not exceed from 100,000l. to 150,000l. Taking, however, that part of his hon. friend's proposition, for granted, he must say, that it ought to be propounded in a different shape. If that change in the condition of the slave-population was to be effected by a fiscal measure of economy, let it be broadly put to parliament, whether they were ready to work what might be deemed a salutary change, and to pay such an amount in cash to the masters, to purchase the emancipation of such a number of slaves. As to what his hon. friend had observed, respecting the prosperity of Sierra Leone under a different system, did he mean to say, that what was practical in the education, discipline, and internal regulations and improvements of a small colony, so placed, and so paid for, could be practically introduced, and with equal practicability managed, when transplanted and applied to the condition of the West-Indian population of 800,000 slaves? That the commercial policy of Great Britain was altering, was indeed clear. His hon. friend could not be unaware of the immense change which was now working in the old commercial system of the world, by the recent events which had occurred, and were still in progress, in the new world. A great commercial country like this, must more or less, adapt her policy to a state of things which had arisen in those large and important colonies which had separated themselves from their previous state of European dependence. New interests had been created, and still were creating: and England must regulate her policy according to circumstances, many of which were not yet fully developed. This, again, was a point of discussion into which he thought it would be improper for him incidentally to embark, with his hon. friend. For these reasons he trusted the House would agree with him, that there was no necessity for appointing a committee to ascertain facts which were not in dispute, and more particularly for the purpose of discussing conclusions which could not fail to awaken jealousies and alarms, which it was not prudent at the present moment to excite.

Mr. Whitmore,

in reply, observed, that he had the most conclusive evidence to shew the great difference of price which existed between the sugars of the British plantations, and foreign sugars of inferior quality, on bond. It was quite clear that some change of system must take place. When the right hon. gentleman charged him with absurdity, because so large a sum as he had named was not paid into the Treasury, he must beg leave to assert, on the other side, that the sums paid into the Treasury did not measure the amount drawn out of the pockets of the consumer.

The motion was put, and negatived.