HC Deb 04 June 1830 vol 24 cc1356-61
Sir James Graham

said, that as he was anxious at all times not to impede the public business, and most anxious at all times not to obtrude his observations unnecessarily on the House, not having in any motion of his any factious object, or any merely party purposes, and being convinced that the Motion he intended to submit to the House related to a great constitutional question—before he brought it on, he wished to make a proposition to the right hon. Gentleman. His proposition was this:—That his Majesty's Ministers should undertake, without loss of time, to bring in a bill to limit the prerogative of the Crown to import commodities free of duty, to such commodities as were for the use of the Crown, and not allowing it to import commodities free of duty, for sale, particularly the sugar which was sent here in payment of the 4½-per-cent-duties, from Barba does and the Leeward Islands. If Ministers would accept his proposition, and bring in such a measure, it would take away the necessity of making the Motion of which he had given notice, though he should reserve to himself the right, if he were not satisfied with the measure, to bring forward a Motion on the subject hereafter.

Sir Robert Peel

was glad of the opportunity of making that statement before going into the committee, which his right hon. friend would have had to make. It appeared, that according to the principle of the Constitution, nothing was more clear than that it was the prerogative of the Crown to bring into the country any commodities without the payment of any ordinary duties; and it was quite clear that this prerogative extended to the sugar which the Crown received in payment of the 4½-per-cent duties. It was, He asserted, quite clear, according to the constitutional law of this country, and the common law, that this sugar was not subject to pay Customs' duties. That was the fact in point of law. The proceeds of those duties (the 4½-per-cents), though evidently belonging to the Crown, were not appropriated to any personal, but to public objects; and were applied to diminish the charges on some other public funds. At the same time, he was not prepared to contend that the Crown could import commodities for sale in the market, except on payment of duties, like other persons. Neither was he prepared to say, that the prerogative, though existing constitutionally to this extent, might not lead to public inconvenience. He was not prepared to say, that the prerogative, if wholly unlimited, might not lead to abuse. It was therefore the intention of Ministers to place the prerogative under such a limitation, that the sugar for sale should not be brought into the market without paying the Customs' duties. His right hon. friend would have to introduce a legislative measure on the subject to the House. He should reserve himself for further explanation when the measure was submitted to Parliament, and then the hon. Baronet would have an opportunity of seeing if the enactment merited his approbation.

Sir James Graham

said, he should not consult the feelings of the House if he did not accept the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman. He hoped, when his Majesty's Ministers brought in a measure to limit the prerogative, that it would be such as would command the assent of Parliament. He was glad to see the Ministers undertake this from a sense of what was due to constitutional principles; and in particular the measure gave him satisfaction, as it prevented him from trespassing on the House at some length. It would be more satisfactory to the House and the public also to see the Ministers do this, not from compulsion but a sense of duty.

Mr. John Stewart

took the opportunity to call the attention of the Colonial Minister to the monopolies which existed in Ceylon. They had been adverted to the other evening, and must be, he was quite sure, inimical to the prosperity of the colony and. destructive of its revenue,

Mr. Huskisson

expressed his unfeigned satisfaction at what he had heard from his right hon. friend, the Secretary of State, and that it was his intention to bring in a bill to avoid trying the question of extreme right. With his right hon. friend he held that the right was clear and unqualified in the Crown to bring in all the articles that were required for the consumption of the Crown, free of duty. Such was unquestionably the prerogative of the Crown; but it was one thing to state that prerogative as a question of a constitutional character, and another to stand on the exercise of an extreme right, when that might tend to public inconvenience. It was clear that by the law the sugar sent in. payment of the 4½-per-cents might be exempt from duties, but he denied that the order given two years ago, to exempt those sugars from the payment of duty, was consistent with the public advantage. Let the House look at the practical result of such a measure. A person went into the market and bought some of this sugar that was sent here in payment of the 4½-per-cents; he would buy it at the market price, and he would pay for it what was called the long price, which included the duty; the broker who sold the sugar would hand over the proceeds, duty and all, to the agent for the 4½-per-cents, but the purchaser might go immediately afterwards to the Custom-house, and, if he exported that sugar, demand the whole drawback. That was a state of things that was open to many inconveniences, and ought not to be suffered to continue. He hoped, therefore, that the measure would limit the right to import commodities duty free to such as were for the use of the Sovereign himself.

Sir Charles Wetherell

contended, that the Sovereign had the right to import whatever he pleased for his own use, duty free. He had several other rights of property of this kind, such as the right to the Droits of Admiralty, to wrecks, and others—and the Ministers, if they pleased, might give up these and all other rights, but he hoped they would not give up his opinion. To contend that the Sovereign had not the right to import commodities without paying duties, was to say that his Majesty must not travel from London to Windsor without paying tolls on his own roads. The House could no more levy duties on the articles for the Sovereign's use, than it could make him pay a shilling or a six- penny toll. The hon. Baronet supposed a case, that the Crown descended from its dignity and commenced trader; and if such a case were brought before the Parliament, he should express his opinion on it, but that was only a case supposed by the hon. Baronet. The Crown could not descend from its dignity to be a trader. Several Members of that House had rights similar to those of the Crown. If the hon. member for Cumberland had a manor with sea coast, and the Crown had given him the right to wrecks which might happen, he might, if a cargo of sugar or rum came by that means into his possession, bring it into the country without paying any duty whatever, because he did not import it as a merchant. When the bill mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman should be brought in, he should have an opportunity of delivering his sentiments on that; he would for the moment content himself with affirming, that the Crown had the right to import what it liked duty free, and that its rights had been frequently acknowledged by the Courts.

Mr. Bright

thought the prerogative of the King in this respect was much more extensive than the hon. and learned Gentleman had described it to be; and, although it was not always exercised, there could be no doubt of its existence. He was very much afraid that the bill now announced to the House, so far from limiting that prerogative, might, perhaps, enable the Crown to devise new means for its being called into operation, and therefore, he now gave notice of his intention to watch its progress, and examine thoroughly its details.

The Attorney General

could assure the hon. Member, that the bill meant neither to encroach on the prerogative nor to extend its privileges; its object was to adjust that portion of the royal privileges by which certain commodities were imported, and might subsequently be sold, duty free, to the level of existing usages and institutions. The sugars alluded to stood on a different ground from other articles which the Crown might import free of duty.

Mr. Baring

had, from the very first, looked on this exercise of the prerogative of the Crown with great jealousy, and he rejoiced at the prospect of a full and complete settlement of all the questions to which it gave rise. Notwithstanding what the hon. and learned Gentleman said, in this case there had been an actual importation for sale on the part of the Crown. The Crown had descended to be a merchant, and against future acts of the same kind it was necessary that the Parliament should guard. It might, if it pleased, import wine duty free, it might import the spices it monopolised at Ceylon, it might import the wool of the King's flocks from Hanover, and, in short, it might, if the principle were admitted, become, as was the case in some countries, the one great merchant. He looked, therefore, on this exercise of the prerogative of the Crown with great jealousy, and he trusted that it would now be defined and abridged.

Sir Robert Peel

said, he had always endeavoured, as much as possible, to support the just prerogative of the Crown, but he could not conceal from himself, that the exercise of a power of this kind should be dispensed with, and that it was necessary to put an immediate termination to all the speculations or suspicions which it might call forth.

Mr. Brougham

, approved of the declaration of the right hon. Gentleman (Sir R. Peel), and declared, that a proper limitation of the prerogatives of the Crown was the surest method to fix them on a permanent basis.

Mr. Hume

thought, that the time was come, when the exercise of prerogatives of that kind should be put an end to for ever. He did not see, too, on what principle the ambassadors of this country, who were so well paid for their services, should possess a privilege beyond the rest of his Majesty's subjects, and he hoped that the practice with respect to them would also be abandoned. The right hon. Gentleman (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) admitted that he had received 50,000l., being the amount of two years duty on these sugars. He (Mr. Hume) hoped that the right hon. Gentleman, as he was going to bring in a bill to abolish the practice, would also refund the 50,000l.. which it appeared he had appropriated without the consent of Parliament.

Sir C. Wetherell

said, in explanation, that the only object he had in view in the few observations which he had addressed to the House was, to vindicate the official law opinion which he had delivered with respect to the West-India sugars, which, he still maintained, the Crown was entitled to import and sell duty free.

The House went into a Committee.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer moved a Resolution to the effect that a sum of 4,000,000l. sterling should be granted to his Majesty out of the consolidated fund, to make good the supplies of the current year.—Agreed to.

The House then resolved itself into a