HC Deb 11 March 1831 vol 3 cc373-80
Lord Althorp

declared, he felt most sincerely for the distress of the West-India interests; and if anything could be done to relieve them, without interfering with other interests, it would be the duty of Government to propose it, and of the House to give it most serious consideration. It was necessary to look upon taxation, as it pressed on the community generally. He felt that a small reduction of the Sugar Duties would be of no use to the West-India interests, nor to the consumed. And as to a large reduction, were it even beneficial, he considered that the taking off the duty on sea-borne coals was a much greater boon to the people. But he was not sure that even a large reduction would be of use; the remedy must come in some different manner. The evils of the West-India interests were too deeply situated for any palliative. As long as the consumption of the country could not absorb all our colonial sugars, so long must the price in our market be regulated by the price abroad. Under these circumstances, Government felt it was impossible to propose any effectual remedy: and having stated this, it only remained for him to add, that the Government did not intend to propose any alteration in the annual duties imposed by the Act of last Session. These duties were reduced last year in a small degree, but it was attended with no beneficial effect except to the retail dealer. The noble Lord then moved, "That it is the opinion of this Committee, that towards making good the Supply granted to his Majesty, the different Duties on Sugar and Molasses, imposed by the Act of last Session, and the bounties granted thereon, shall be further continued for the space of one year."

The Marquis of Chandos

said, he gave the noble Lord full credit for his desire to relieve the West-India interests from the dreadful state of distress under which they were at present labouring. He felt, however, that he should not do his duty if he did not bring under the notice of the House the situation in which the West Indies were placed. And he should consider it advisable to move the voting of a relief to this interest, as he did last year, when it was his fortune to divide in a minority. He thought there were modes of relief; and he trusted, if they were so considered by his Lordship, he would not hesitate to adopt them. There was, in fact, great and lamentable distress in the colonies; and if it continued, no one could answer for their security. The noble Lord concluded by moving as an Amendment, "That all Brown Muscavado and Clayed Sugars, imported from the British possessions in America and the Mauritius, should be imported at a duty of 20s. per ewt."

Mr. Bernal

said, that he heard with regret the declaration of the noble Lord, that he could not consent to a reduction of the Sugar Duties; but as that was the case, he trusted that some relief would be afforded in another way. The noble Lord knew that the West-India interest might be much benefitted, if he would permit their sugars to be used in the breweries or distilleries of England. It was true that the landed interest might feel somewhat jealous of such a proposition; but he believed, that if they did, it would be without any great reason; for, in his opinion, they would not be sufferers by the measure. At the present moment, barley was introduced from the Continent for use in our breweries and distilleries; and if the proposition he submitted were adopted, the only change would be, that the sugars of the West-Indies would be substituted for that foreign barley, and the barley produced at home would continue to be used to the same extent as at present. If, therefore, the noble Lord was not prepared to concede the reduction of duties, as proposed by the noble Marquis, he ought to allow the introduction of sugars for the use of the breweries and distilleries. If the noble Lord did not hold out some hope of the admission of sugars for these purposes, he should feel himself compelled to vote for the Amendment. If sugars were not admitted, perhaps the noble Lord might permit the introduction of molasses for the use of breweries and distilleries. The present duty on sugar was 24s. per cwt., and the amount of duty upon twenty hogsheads was 360l. But the West-India planter was placed in this unfortunate predicament, that he was obliged to pay the duty immediately the sugar was sold. He sold it, however, on credit, and before he received his money the purchaser might fail, and he lose both the value of his sugar, and the duty he had paid to the Government. To be relieved from that risk would be a great benefit. He did not press the noble Lord for the reduction of this duty, because the noble Lord had told them distinctly, that at this moment the Government was not in a situation to spare the amount of the duty, and because he did not wish to do anything to embarrass the Government, but he thought that some relief ought to be afforded. He agreed with the principle, that when the public interest was made out to be on one side, private interest, if opposed to it, must give way; but then the public interest must be clearly made out to justify a Government in calling on a body of people for the sacrifice of their private interests. He did not think that it had been made out in this manner on this occasion, at least so as to prevent the hope of relief on the part of the West-India interest. He trusted that the noble Lord would take this matter into his serious consideration.

Mr. H. Davis

agreed with the proposition of the hon. member for Rochester. If the duty was reduced, there would be a larger consumption of sugar, and the revenue would not suffer to the extent supposed. The noble Lord, if he could not admit the sugars into the breweries, ought at least to allow them to be introduced into distilleries.

Lord Althorp

assured the hon. member for Rochester, that he had taken the introduction of sugars into breweries and distilleries into his serious consideration. The introduction of sugars into breweries and distilleries had not been permitted since 1812, and then only sugar had been permitted. With respect to breweries, if sugars were admitted, they would displace malt, and at the present moment the malt trade was improving, and the revenue from it was increasing very much. He feared he should hazard that revenue, which was one of the most important, if he consented to the proposal of the hon. member for Rochester. The revenue on malt this year would, he believed, exhibit an increase of 800,000l., and at the present time he should not be justified in putting it into hazard. He had already made inquiries into the matter, and was aware that the landed interest would at this period of the year be but little interfered with by the admission of sugars for the purposes of the distilleries, because at the present moment they had not a large stock of barley on hand; but it would have some influence on their welfare next year. It was not entirely, however, their interest that was to be considered at this moment, because that would be but very slightly affected, but the interest of the revenue which did not permit him to agree either to the proposition of the noble Lord, or to that of the hon. Member.

Mr. Robert Gordon

said, that if the noble Lord was correct in his estimate of the increase of Malt Duties during the present year, he would surely be able to afford relief to the West-India interest by taking off the duty in the manner proposed by the noble Marquis, since that increase would more than cover any deficiency that might arise in the revenue from the proposed reduction. But he begged to state most distinctly, that in his opinion there would be no such deficiency, for the increased consumption of sugar would fully make up for the reduction of the duty. He feared that the noble Lord had forgotten the principles on which they were accustomed, when they both sat on the other side of the House, to argue these. questions, or he must feel pretty well assured that the revenue would not suffer in proportion to the reduction of the duty. If, however, he could formerly have had any doubt upon the subject, he would find in the events of the two last years a sufficient security that an increase of consumption, and a proportionate increase of revenue always followed a reduction of duty. The noble Lord ought either to reduce the duty, and thus afford relief to the West-India planters, or he ought to admit sugars into breweries and distilleries, and one way or the other the West-India interest would be benefitted, and on their behalf he appealed to the favourable consideration—he might almost say, to the pity—of that House.

Mr. Irving

preferred the introduction of molasses into breweries and distilleries, to the reduction of duty. He wished also that rum should be admitted at the same rate of duty as that paid on British spirits.

Sir E. Carrington

said, that some relief ought to be afforded to the West-India interest, if the House expected them to do what they had been repeatedly called on to do. That House had passed Resolutions, calling on the planters to instruct the negroes as well as to feed and clothe them; but it was impossible for the planters to do that unless relief was afforded to them. He hoped some means of doing that might be found, which he assured the House, was absolutely necessary, in order to enable them to improve the condition of the negroes, as that House desired, and as the planters wished.

Mr. Benett

said, he should prefer the proposition of the noble Marquis to that of the hon. member for Rochester, if the revenue of the country would permit the reduction of the duty, for the latter would inflict an injury on the landed interest of this country for the sake of the West-India interest; and at a moment like this, when the landed interest were suffering severely, he did not think it fair to relieve the West-India interest at their expense. The West-India planters seemed to forget that the landed interest had to support the poor and the Church, and were also subject to numberless other burthens, from which they required relief instead of having in addition their market destroyed.

Mr. Cutlar Ferguson

asserted, that the interest of the West-India planters had been sacrificed more than that of any other body of men in the empire. He was sure that the revenue would not suffer by the proposed reduction of duty, while great relief would be afforded to the consumer. He should therefore vote for the Amendment,

Mr. Hume

put in a claim on behalf of the people of England, for a reduction of these Sugar Duties, and he was satisfied, that if it were granted the noble Lord opposite would suffer no diminution of revenue on that account. The Government was, indeed, pledged to make the reduction, for the duty was a war duty, and when imposed, it was understood to be imposed only for war purposes. He asked the noble Lord what had been the amount of the falling off in the revenue on sugar daring the last year? He believed, that the falling off, if any was very trifling, and had been occasioned less from the reduction of duty than from other causes, among which was a short supply of sugar arising from a deficient crop.

Mr. Maberly

thought it was not fair to deal with the noble Lord in the abstract in this matter, after he had said he had reduced the duty as much as he could. The question, however, was not one affecting the West-India interest alone, for all duties fell on the consumer, and the matter, therefore, chiefly related to him. It might be true, that the introduction of sugars into breweries and distilleries would afford relief to the West-India interest, but then it appeared that there were other interests that would be injured, and these must be consulted.

Colonel Davies

said, it was true the duty was paid by the consumer, but still, if that duty was too high, the amount of the consumption of the taxed article would be less, so that the producer would suffer. The duty might, it was plain, be so high as to amount to a prohibition which would deprive the consumer of a little enjoyment, but would actually ruin the producer. He thought, as relief was necessary, it was the duty of the Government to reduce its expenses, which he and his hon. friend who spoke last knew could be done, and give that relief to the West-Indians which they prayed for.

Mr. Keith Douglas

supported the proposition for the reduction of the duty. He admitted, that it was possible the produce of the Malt Duties might be somewhat injured by the introduction of sugars or molasses into breweries, but that could not be the case if sugars were allowed to be employed in our distilleries, where they would only supersede foreign barley. The West-India interests loudly called for relief, and he hoped the noble Lord would re-consider the subject.

Mr. Whitmore

could not vote for the Amendment of the noble Marquis, although he lamented deeply the distresses of the West-India interest, and should be happy were it possible to relieve them. He feared, however, that assistance could not be afforded with due regard to the welfare of the other great interests of the country. The distresses of the planters arose out of no law, and could be remedied by no law passed in this country.

An hon. Member contended, that Ministers had reduced taxes to the utmost extent that could be afforded, and therefore, though he had formerly voted for a reduction of the sugar duties, he could not then vote for the proposition of the noble Marquis.

Sir F. Burdett

observed, that it was hard upon the noble Lord, who had been only a short time in office, to be so severely pressed. In the course of a few months, the present Administration had afforded more relief than the last. Administration in about as many years. He agreed that the West-India interest was of great importance; and if it could be established that the revenue would not suffer by the proposed reduction, Ministers ought, and he had no doubt they would be most happy to adopt the plan. It had always been their wish, he believed, to relieve the people whenever it could be done without too great a sacrifice. It was fit that some-little patience should be exercised, and he had no doubt that the public would benefit by the forbearance. No partial measure of this description could give general relief, but he was very willing to acknowledge that the claims of the West-India interest ought not to be lightly passed over. If the present Government had even common sense, to say nothing of integrity, they would adopt the Amendment of the noble Marquis, or some corresponding measure, the moment they found it practicable.

Mr. Goulburn

was satisfied, that the proposed reduction could not be made; but he thought, nevertheless, that the West-India interest had a more just claim to relief than that of the classes to whom the noble Lord, in his Budget, had paid more attention. When he looked at the amount of taxes already reduced by the noble Lord, he was quite alarmed; he saw that revenue had been relinquished to the extent of 1,740,000l., while means of supplying the deficiency were only found to the extent of 800,000l., leaving 940,000l. deficiency, and how that was to be supplied he knew not, especially when the surplus revenue was only calculated at 300,000l.

Lord Althorp

recalled the recollection of the right hon. Gentleman to the fact, that when he (Lord Althorp) stated the Budget, he had not taken credit for any increase in the revenue from the greater productiveness of certain taxes, particularly the Malt Tax, from the change in the law relative to beer. The right hon. Gentleman had himself calculated upon an increase before he left office. At that moment, too, he (Lord Althorp) had the advantage of knowing what had been the produce of the Revenue during the last two months, and he therefore did not in the slightest degree participate in the apprehensions of the right hon. Gentleman. In the reduction of the duty upon Tobacco, he had calculated upon the increase of the revenue from the diminution of smug-ling; but the same reasoning would not apply to any reduction of the duty on sugar. It was very true that the reductions of last year had occasioned a small diminution of revenue; a further reduction in the duty on sugar might, to a certain extent, increase consumption; but unless that increase were to a great extent, the revenue would lose more than, in the present state of the Government, could be afforded. Having given the different items the best considerations in his power, before he brought on his Budget, he thought he had selected those articles for reduction of duty which would afford the greatest degree of relief to the people.

Mr. Warburton

said, that he could not vote for the Amendment, but he did not see sufficient ground for refusing to allow the use of sugar and molasses in the breweries and distilleries.

Mr. Hunt

supported the Amendment, because a reduction of the duty on sugar would be a great advantage to the lower orders. The hon. Baronet, the member for Westminster, being a great landed proprietor, had called upon the country to have patience; that might do for him, but it would not do for the people. When the hon. Baronet said that great reductions had been made, he seemed to have discovered a mare's nest.

The House divided. For the original Motion 147; For the Amendment 49— Majority 98.

Resolution agreed to, and the House resumed.