HC Deb 18 May 1830 vol 24 cc834-8
Mr. K. Douglas

, referring to what had fallen from his right hon. friend (Sir Robert Peel) respecting his motion on the state of the West-India Colonists,—namely, that no practical good could be expected to result from its introduction at so late a period of the Session,—observed that it was not in his power to have brought it forward earlier. He was sensible of its urgency, but the state of business had been such that he had no option. He wished, however, that it might be understood that he was not a volunteer on the occasion. He and his noble friend (the Marquis of Chandos) had been selected twelve months ago by the West-India Colonists to represent their interests to that House. They had made themselves acquainted with the subject, having got every information respecting it which the Colonists could give, and had laid their statement before the House; and though they had last year not been able to obtain the redress which they sought, they were ready now again to urge the subject on the attention of Parliament. At the same time he must always contend that it was the duty of the Ministers to take upon themselves the responsibility of submitting this question to the House. The nature of our colonial possessions imposed that necessity upon them; and it would be much more satisfactory to him if the Ministers would state that they were willing to take the subject into consideration in the course of the next Session. If they consented to do so, he should expect that they would offer their own views in their responsible character. This would spare him a task to which he felt himself incompetent—that of making the case under all its peculiarities and difficulties thoroughly intelligible to the House. If he could receive an assurance to this effect, he should feel that he had discharged his duty much more effectually and advantageously to the interests which he had advocated, than if he himself brought the question forward. If, however, Ministers would not give any such pledge, he, inadequate as he might be to the task, would endeavour to make out the case to the House and the country, and show how the ruin of hundreds of respectable individuals would be involved by the further neglect of the case on the part of Government. He did earnestly hope, however, that Government would save him that trouble, and in that feeling, if he understood that Government did really mean to apply itself to the subject, he would not press his Motion now.

Mr. Herries

said, that if his hon. friend wished to know whether the Government were disposed to do all in its power to alleviate any evils connected with the subject to which he referred, and to take it fully into its consideration, he could assure him that he and those with whom he acted would not be found wanting in a disposition to comply with his desires as fully as possible in that respect. At the same time he could assure the hon. Member, that however Government might be disposed to relieve the commercial relations of the West-Indian interest from embarrassment, any immediate remedy for the evils complained of was impossible. Under such circumstances, he could not think it would be advisable for his Majesty's Government to give to the hon. Gentleman or the House the pledge which he now required.

The Marquis of Chandos

observed, that it had long been a subject of lively regret to many as well as himself that in a question of such vital interest to this country—namely, the prosperity of the West-India Colonies—their interests had not been taken up as they ought to have been by his Majesty's Government: he was connected with those Colonies himself, and feeling, as he did, that they were a suffering and overburthened part of this great empire, their interests, he thought, imperatively called on the Administration to take up their affairs, with a view to afford that portion of our dominions advantages equivalent to those enjoyed by other portions of our colonial establishments. If Ministers, in that spirit, would consent to pledge themselves to take up the subject, with a view to their relief, he should recommend his hon. friend to leave it in their hands, otherwise he should prefer the adoption of some other parliamentary mode of inquiry.

Sir Robert Peel

said, that the proposition made by his hon. friend was different from that made by his noble friend who had just spoken. His noble friend said, that Government must give a pledge to bring forward some measure of relief; but he put it to his noble friend, if it were either the interest or the duty of Ministers to pledge themselves to any specific measures. If his noble friend reflected for a moment, he would see the propriety of Government being sparing in its pledges, and slow to contract engagements, but careful to fulfil all those it contracted. If he were unable to pledge the Government to any measures of relief, he could assure his noble friend it was not from want of consideration of the West-India interest, but from a wish not to enter into engagements which it might be impossible to fulfil. He was convinced, unfortunately, of the depression of the West-India interest, but he did not see how any measures could be undertaken for its relief during the present Session. His hon. friend, who had spoken before his noble friend, seemed content to acquiesce in the recommendation that Government should take the matter into its consideration. He would so far pledge the Government, that he would undertake that it should investigate the matter, and should give him notice of its intentions at so early a period, that he should he able, if he did not approve of them, to bring forward his Motion on the first week of the next Session of Parliament. If his hon. friend postponed his proposition till next Session, there would then be time to make the inquiry more complete, and find some practical remedy. When he mentioned the late period of the present Session, it was with no intention to cast any reflections on his hon. friend. He knew that his hon. friend had been anxious to bring forward the subject, but the state of the Order Book had been such, that he had not been able. The best course, he believed, for his hon. friend would be, to acquiesce in the proposition of Government—allow it time to examine the matter, on its undertaking to give such an early notice to his hon. friend, that he might submit his proposition to Parliament the first week in the next Session, if he were not satisfied with what the Government should then find it proper to recommend.

Mr. K. Douglas

said, if he understood his right hon. friend correctly, he undertook for the Government that it would examine into the Question, admitting that the West-India interest was in a state of difficulty and distress; that he would make an investigation, and be prepared, before the next Session of Parliament, to notify to the West-India interest the views of the Government after such investigation. Being perfectly satisfied that the Government would undertake the inquiry with sincerity and determination, he should find it his duty to accede to the proposition of his right hon. friend.

Sir A. Grant

expressed his satisfaction at the matter being left in the hands of Government, as it was both able to investigate the subject thoroughly and apply a practical remedy. He begged leave, however, to call the attention of his right hon. friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to the state of overwhelming distress in which the West-Indies were involved, and to ask if some practical remedy might not be found in equalizing the duties on sugar. At present the duties pressed most unequally, because they were the same on the finest as on the coarsest sugars. He was perfectly aware of the difficulties of the subject, but still he thought it might be possible to levy an ad valorem duty on sugars, and he believed that a duty of that kind would be more advantageous to the public than a great reduction of the duty on sugar-That would give the lower classes an opportunity of getting the coarse sugars cheap. He would also recommend a lower rate of duty for sugar in Ireland, which he thought was justified by the Chancellor of the Exchequer having departed from general principles, in levying a different rate of duty on Spirits in Ireland and England. Though a West-India proprietor, he was not particularly interested in the ad valorem duty he recommended, for he possessed land that produced fine sugar as well as land that produced coarse.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, though he was not in general a very orderly person, yet he must, on this occasion, set an example of order to his hon. friend who, though at times the preserver of order among others, had, on this occasion, been most disorderly—he must show his sense of what was due to the usual course of proceedings, by refusing to enter into the subject, as there was no Question before the House.

Mr. Hume

protested against this manner of disposing of the Question. When the Government and the Legislature undertook to protect different interests, the public was sure to suffer. He wished to see the public protected, and he recommended that the duty on sugar should be reduced, which might be done without injury to the Revenue, and would give time to investigate the matter thoroughly, so as to lead to some permanent measure. He wished the people to understand what the Colonies cost them, and if the noble Lord and the hon. Gentleman would not bring forward their Question, he should not We sorry if they obtained no relief.