§ Lord Althorp
rose to propose the renewal of the Sugar Duties for the next six months. In doing so, he was sorry to say, that, although he was aware of the distress which prevailed in the West Indies, it was not in his power to propose any reduction or alteration of those duties on the present occasion. He did not think that a very small reduction of the duties would be of any benefit, and it was not possible at present, consistently with the maintenance of the revenue, and the protection of other interests in the country, to propose any considerable diminution. It was said, that, unless a reduction of the sugar duties took place, no relief could be granted to the West Indies. He did not concur in that view. There were other modes in which relief might be given, although, perhaps, not exactly to the same extent as if it were practicable to make such a reduction as would be the means of absorbing the greater part of 1237 the surplus produce of the West Indies. It had been urged upon him, by gentlemen connected with the West-India interests, that he should state what specific plan of relief he had in contemplation; but he did not think he should be justified in doing so, unless he were prepared and able to follow it up immediately by carrying his propositions into effect. It should be borne in mind, that any thing which would give relief to the West-India interests must, more or less, clash with some other interests; and, therefore, if he now gave notice of any specific plan, he could not do so with that certainty which alone would justify him in communicating it. But he was perfectly ready to say, although he feared it would not be so satisfactory, that it was his intention to propose some fiscal measures of relief in the course of this Session, and, although he was afraid they would not go to the same extent of relief as a. very large reduction of the sugar duties, he hoped and trusted they would be found advantageous to the West-India colonies. At the same time, he must observe, that in any proposition he might bring forward, he was bound to recollect the pledge which he had given last Session, on the Motion of the hon. member for Weymouth, namely, that in any measures of relief that should be proposed, his Majesty's Government would make a distinction between the colonies which had adopted the regulations pressed upon them by that House, and those which had not. By that pledge he was bound, and by that pledge he would abide. And this was an additional reason why it was impossible, at the present moment, to bring forward any specific plan, because it would, undoubtedly, be extremely unfair that the House should immediately give any such advantages to the colonies which had acceded to the regulations, when those which had legislatures of their own had not had time to consider the propositions, and the Crown colonies were obliged immediately to adopt them. He moved "that it is the opinion of this Committee, that, towards raising the supply granted to his Majesty, the several duties on sugar and molasses, imposed by an Act of the first year of the reign of his present Majesty, and the bounties granted thereon, shall be further continued until the 10th day of October, 1832."
The Marquis of Chandos
regretted that the noble Lord could not consent to a reduction of the sugar duties. The difficulties under which the colonies were labour- 1238 ing were hourly increasing. This was not the first, second, nor third time that their case had come under the consideration of Government, and it was a little too hard to say to them, "England is in no state to grant you any relief." The noble Lord said, that he meant to grant them some relief, but would the House be satisfied with the prospect Government was holding out? Only yesterday the Committee up-stairs came to the following resolution:—"that it is the opinion of the Committee, that material relief would be afforded to the West-India interests by any such reduction of duty, as would, by encouraging a considerable consumption in the United Kingdom, diminish the supply to the other parts of the world." He had not the least hesitation in saying, that, even by a small reduction of the sugar duties, the consumption would be greatly increased, so that the revenue would lose nothing. On that ground, therefore, the noble Lord could not stand. He feared, however, it was almost a hopeless case to stand up in that House and advocate the cause of the West-India colonies; for, on the one hand, a plea of poverty was urged, which would admit of nothing being done, and, on the other, a strong party-feeling existed, running counter to the prosperity of the colonial interests. Between these two, he certainly felt alarmed lest the country should be deprived of its colonies; for it was impossible for any one to observe what was going on, without seeing that, if the same policy was persisted in for a few years longer, England could no longer hope to have any control over her West-Indian possessions. They would unite themselves with that power which would protect them, and no longer come here, where they were constantly told that no relief could be vouchsafed to them. He, therefore, implored the noble Lord not to lose sight of the valuable assistance which the colonies afforded to this country; and if he could hold out any hope of a reduction, he certainly would not press the amendment which he had to propose to a division; but if that hope was not held out by Government, he should be under the necessity of moving an amendment, and of taking the opinion of the Committee upon it. Of course, he was not able to say any thing about the relief which the noble Lord promised, as he had not thought proper to explain the nature of his proposal: the great relief, however, to which the West-India interests had always looked, had been the reduce- 1239 tion of the sugar duties; and he thought the reduction which he had to propose, though moderate in amount, would be such as to afford some relief to the colonies. The state of those islands seemed to him imperatively to demand this step: ruin was threatening them in every direction—the planters were reduced from affluence nearly to beggary—houses no longer existed for making the sugar—the slaves were in rebellion—and to all these things the only answer of the noble Lord was, "the Government can afford you no relief." He felt, therefore, that it was not too much to ask for a small reduction, when the noble Lord proposed to renew, for six months longer, the war duties at their highest pitch; and he, therefore, begged to propose, by way of amendment, "That all brown, muscovado, and clayed sugars, imported from the British possessions in America, and the Mauritius, be imported at a duty of 20s. per cwt." This was tantamount to a reduction in the duty of 4s. per cwt.
Mr. Keith Douglas
was most anxious to avoid saying any thing that was likely to excite angry feelings on either side; but this was a subject, the discussion of which, at the present moment, was calculated to produce more of that feeling than almost any other?—for the West-India interests had suffered so much of late, that those connected with them were not easily to be appeased. He certainly expected, after the discussions in the Committee, that the Government would have proposed a reduction in these duties, in order that something might be done for the alleviation of the distresses of those colonies. He was, therefore, somewhat surprised to hear the noble Lord talk of the impossibility of risking any defalcation in the revenue, saying, that the loss of the colonies could bear no comparison with a small deficit in the Exchequer. The Committee wished to propose resolutions pointing out distinct modes of relief; but that, it was said, would be contrary to the princple which the Government entertained. Other propositions were then made; but the answer to them all was, that the other interests of the country interfered with them, and that the government was unwilling to throw its weight into the scale, as considerable responsibility would attach to the proposing of any measure to the House. Under these circumstances, he was warranted in asserting, from the nature of the resolutions passed, that the Committee came to the unanimous conclusion that a 1240 general reduction of the duty would be the best means of affording relief to the planters, and that even a small reduction of that duty would tend to the same effect. The first resolution stated, "that it appears to the Committee that effectual relief would be afforded to the West-India planters by such a reduction of the duty on sugar as would lead, by extending the consumption in the United Kingdom, to the absorption of the sugar now exported to foreign countries." The second resolution was, "that it is the opinion of the Committee, that material relief would be afforded to the same interests by any such reduction of duty as would, by encouraging a considerable consumption in the United Kingdom, diminish the supply to the other parts of the world. He begged to call the attention of the Committee to what had been the effect of the recent reduction in the sugar duty, by which his statement would be borne out—that a decrease of duty would be attended with an increase of consumption. In the half-year ending 5th July, 1830, the home consumption was 2,086,409 cwt., producing to the country a revenue of 2,206,000l. Subsequent to the reduction of the 3s. duty, or in the half-year ending 5th July, 1831, the consumption had risen to 2,290,365 cwt., and the sum received by the revenue consequently rose to 2,304,819l., making an increase of about 210,000 cwt., and of about 100,000l. on that period. As far as he could understand the question, the increase of consumption up to the 5th January last, had been going on in the same ratio, and, therefore, at the present moment, notwithstanding the reduction of the 3s. duty, there was a larger revenue arising from the sugar duties than previously; and the increase of the consumption in the course of the year had been 400,000 cwt. The noble Lord proposed to take the existing duty for half a-year, but a more inexpedient proposition could not be made; for the effect of it would be to paralyse the transactions of all those connected with the West-India trade; and the noble Lord, instead of reaping any benefit from his proposition, would injure the revenue. The planters, when they asked for a Committee, alleged that they had been placed in an unjust situation, and were called on to compete with other countries without having the means. These assertions were proved before the Committee, and resolutions were come to affirmatory of the fact; and yet, after all these pains, the whole was to be set aside, and 1241 all that the noble Lord could hold out was, that fiscal regulations were to be made, founded on political considerations, as to the state of society in the West-India colonies. Much might have been done if the language of persuasion and kindness had been used towards the colonies; but there had been nothing but angry discussion, charges made, and accusations brought forward; in short, every thing done that could excite unpleasant feelings. He was, therefore, exceedingly sorry that the noble Lord had coupled his promise of fiscal relief with other measures, that would produce a great deal of angry debate both here and in the colonies. He was afraid, from the clashing of interest, which was now so evident, and from the irritation which existed, that all men must look forward to a time when those colonies would no longer form a part of the British Empire.
said, he had hoped that some expression of feeling and sympathy for the condition of the West-India trade would have fallen from his Majesty's Government on the present occasion, which would have satisfied and given confidence not only to the West-India colonies, but the entire country, and, without such an expression, he feared that those connected with the colonies must make up their mind to lose them. He conceived that the view taken by the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the present instance, was very short-sighted, when he talked of a possible defalcation in the revenue as the only thing to be avoided. He feared, the measures proposed by the noble Lord would bring on the very evil he was so anxious to guard against. It would be better to run the risk of a financial defalcation than incur the more fearful risk of destroying the West-India interests. He assured the Committee that it was with the greatest regret that he felt called on to give his vote against the Government on this occasion, for he had a sincere desire to have avoided it, especially as he did not look on the reduction of this duty as the best mode of proceeding: but when he found that the West-India interests were driven from post to pillar—when he found that they were put off year after year—he felt that something must be done; and this reduction appeared the most feasible thing that the present circumstances would allow. Some observations had been made on the resolutions that had been proposed in the Committee up-stairs; and, as he had been the mover of one of them, perhaps he might 1242 be allowed to say a few words. In the first place, it was his belief that a reduction in the duty would not make a corresponding reduction in the revenue; because, when the article became cheaper, the consumption would certainly be increased; and this was with him a strong proof that any thing that led to an increased consumption would be a benefit to the consumer at least; and if the sources of supply should happen to be checked by the interference of treaties, or otherwise, which appeared likely to be the case, a benefit would also be conferred on the grower, so that the general beneficial effect would be divided between these two parties; and as, in the present state of the colonies, the smallest benefit must be most gratefully accepted, and as it was most important to show in that House a lively concern and solicitude for those interests which it had once been the glory of this country to protect and uphold, he thought that they were bound to come to the resolution that a reduction of the duties ought to take place.
said, that no one was less disposed to allow the colonies to be a source of expense to this country than he was, but still he thought that they were bound to afford relief to them under their present distressed circumstances, particularly when they could, at the same time, afford relief to the consumers in this country. He had for many years been of opinion, that the pledge given by the British Parliament at the commencement of the war, that the increase of duties should end with that war, had never been redeemed; and he had, therefore, on every occasion, invariably advocated the reduction of the sugar duties. Now, that a Committee, after carefully considering the matter, had come to a resolution that the only means of preserving the colonies from ruin was by a reduction of those duties, the House was imperatively bound to afford that assistance. Indeed, he thought that the whole effect of the policy practised towards the West-India colonies was to destroy that confidence which ought to be placed in the Government, as affording protection to capital and property. At the same time, he did not suppose that this effect had been intended by the present Ministers. He thought they meant to do good; but evil had unfortunately been the result, and great sacrifice of property had ensued. It was for this reason that he thought that Parliament was bound to endeavour to stay the evil, and to afford the best relief in its 1243 power. So strongly was he of this opinion, that even, though the Exchequer should suffer, the Government was bound to consider most seriously whether it was not wise to grant this relief. The colonist not only required but deserved this reduction, and the British public were entitled to it. A benefit would thereby be extended both to the planter and the consumer; and he would entreat the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to make thus far an approach to the redemption of the pledge given before the war, that the duties should cease, and to make some sacrifice to meet the views of those who were on the verge of ruin, to which they had been brought by an accumulation of circumstances and misfortunes. For these reasons, he should vote for the Amendment of the noble Marquis.
Mr. Cutlar Fergusson
was so satisfied, that on the vote of that night would depend the impression made on the West-India colonies, as to whether this country was prepared to extend relief to those valuable possessions, or whether it was resolved to abandon them to other Powers, that he could not in his conscience do otherwise than vote for the Amendment of the noble Marquis, He agreed, also, with the hon. member for Middlesex, that they were not to look for a diminution of the revenue equal to the reduction of the duty; for it had never happened yet, that, in an article of general consumption, a reduction of duty had not led to a considerable increase in its consumption; so that by extending this relief to the West Indies, the Government would also confer a great benefit on the consumer. He thought that the noble Lord ought not to dread so great a defalcation as that which he seemed to expect. At all events, he was prepared to go the length of the hon. member for Middlesex, and would risk the defalcation for the sake of showing to the West-India colonies, that, if it was possible to save them from ruin, this country would not be wanting in its efforts for that purpose, or give tokens of its being lost to every feeling in their behalf. He was one of those who thought that the colonies of this country were one of the great sources of its strength; and he never would, in accordance with the theories of political economists, concur in any resolution, or agree in any law, that should go to the detriment, or towards the destruction of our colonial interests, for the purpose of forwarding other interests which it was sup- 1244 posed were contrary to the former, but which he, for his part, believed to be perfectly compatible the one with the other. He thought it a pity, however, that the noble Lord, in his Amendment, had omitted to include East-India sugars; for the two colonies ought to be placed on precisely the same footing.
§ Sir Charles Wetherell
said, that, on referring to the conduct of the Government, first, on the timber question, next, on the wine duties, and, lastly, on the present question, he could but think that their whole line of conduct was anti-colonial. He had so much of the conservative about him that he would never consent to the destruction of the colonies, though that seemed to be the favourite policy of the present Government. He concurred in the Motion of his noble friend, because any deficit in the revenue might be amended, but it would be impossible to remedy the desertion of the colonies in the present time of need, for to deny them relief was sufficient to induce the colonies to look to other countries for that protection which they ought to receive from Great Britain, but which would be denied to them if the noble Lord's proposition was agreed to. By refusing the colonies financial relief, a principle would be established which must suspend all their confidence in the British Parliament, and would lead to distrust and desperation, to jealousy and opposition.
was convinced, that the principle which should combine the interests of the consumer with those of the planter was the only one on which they could afford relief to the colonies; for anything that should throw new taxation on this country was, in his opinion, wholly inadmissible. It, therefore, seemed to him that they ought to reduce the sugar duties in amount pretty nearly on the plan proposed by the noble Marquis; though he thought that they might be reduced in a manner which would prove still more beneficial to the revenue, and afford still greater relief to the planter. The plan that he would propose was, that the duty should be so arranged as to produce an average reduction of 4s. in the cwt.; but, by imposing a smaller duty on the low-priced sugars, he thought that the justice of the case would be better met, and that it would have the effect also of producing a much more considerable consumption. The present consumption of sugar was four millions of cwts., upon which a re- 1245 duction of duty of 4s. per cwt. would amount to 800,000l.; but, as a set off against this certain loss, by a diminution of duty to that extent, they must consider the increased amount of revenue which would arise by the increased consumption, from the price being lowered. If that increase of consumption should be so great as to absorb the excess of sugar produced in the colonies over the present consumption the revenue would not suffer. There could be no doubt that a great increase on the consumption had followed in the late reduction of the duties; the average price of sugars for the years 1825, 1826, and 1827, was 61s. per cwt., and for the years 1829, 1830, and 1831, 53s. per cwt, owing to which the consumption increased from 3,500,000 cwt. to 4,000,000 cwt., and if there had not been much distress in the country, that increase would have been still greater. But sugar was not the only article by which relief could be extended to the colonies by a reduction of duty; there was also molasses and rum. He also conceived a diminution ought to be made in the duties both on rum and molasses, by which the brewing of beer in this country would be advanced, and the public feel the benefit of the late reduction in the duty on that article of consumption, but from which the rise in the price of malt had prevented the public deriving all those advantages which it had been intended they should enjoy. He thought that these reductions should be made contemporaneously, to be of real benefit. At the same time, he concurred with what had fallen from the hon. Member opposite (Mr. C. Fergusson) with respect to the assimilating the duties on the East and West Indian sugars. He did not demand a lesser duty, but merely that they should be put upon the same footing by which the one country would be benefitted, and the other, would not be a sufferer. With respect to the conservative system, of which the hon. and learned Gentleman had spoken, he thought that it was that very thing which had proved injurious to the colonies, instead of beneficial; for there happened to be a conservative principle at home as well as abroad; and it was the operation of the conservative principle in favour of the landowners at home that had acted so much to the detriment of a fair market for West-India produce in this country. Though, to act consistently with his principles, he must vote for the Amendment, yet he should rather have deferred the reduction on the West-India 1246 sugars, until those from the East Indies could also be included in the plan, if that had been in his power.
§ Mr. Poulett Thomson
said, the hon. Gentleman had rather surprised him in the conclusion to which he came on announcing his vote to the House, for he had joined his support of the noble Lord's Amendment with several distinct propositions of his own, by way of contingencies. He must remark, also, that the question, as it had been argued during the present debate, involved considerable inconvenience, for frequent allusions had been made to the proceedings of the Committee up-stairs, although those proceedings were not yet laid on the Table of the House. [Mr. Goulbum: Some of the Resolutions had been read.] He was aware of that; but there were other Resolutions to which no allusion had been made, and they were surely bound to take the whole together, if they wished to arrive at a just conclusion. The hon. member for Dumfries, in alluding to those Resolutions, made a statement, from which he must dissent. That hon. Gentleman stated, that the effect of the Resolutions agreed to yesterday was, that a material benefit would arise to the West-India interests from a reduction of the duty on sugar, which would be likely to increase the consumption, and thereby take off the surplus produce. Gentlemen, who would take the trouble to consider the meaning of that Resolution, would find, that it states, that material relief would be afforded to the West-Indians, supposing, that by a reduction of the duty, the consumption at home was increased, and the supply for foreign countries sufficiently diminished. Now, he apprehended that no such contingency as was contemplated by the Resolution was likely to occur. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman who had spoken had not attempted to carry the argument to the extreme point to which it ought to be pushed. It must be admitted, that the effect of such a reduction, supposing that consumption were considerably increased, and the foreign supply diminished, would be, not to give relief to the West-Indians, to the full extent of the reduction of the duty, but to half the extent only, the other half going to the consumer, whose benefit was the ground on which he had always supported any reduction of taxes. In this case the advantages proposed to be given to both parties would not be commensurate with the loss to the revenue. 1247 There might be a rise of price, after the reduction of the duty had come into operation, and consumption had increased, but that would pro tanto diminish consumption, and, of course, diminish by so much the advantage expected to be derived by the West-Indians from such a circumstance. But what would be the ulterior consequences? Why, supposing that there was a rise of price to the amount of one-half of the duty taken off, and that was to affect all the markets of the world—that is, of 2s. out of the 4s., there would be an additional stimulus to the foreign colonist to increase his sugar cultivation; and that, whilst our colonists would find great difficulty in increasing their cultivation, the foreign colonists would have none at all, but would go on increasing their supply of sugar till, at last, the price again would fall; and, at the end of one or two years, the West-Indians would be in much the same situation as at present. Arguing, then, from these premises, as to what benefit a reduction of duty of 4s. per cwt. would give to the West-Indian interests, they must, in the first instance, deduct one-half of its amount, which would go to the consumer, and recollect that the other half would remain to them for a very limited period. To represent this question of a reduction of duty, with reference to the permanent interest of the West-Indian proprietor, was an entire delusion. They were called upon to make a sacrifice of revenue, to aid the suffering interests of the West Indies, while the benefit to be conferred upon them would not any thing like balance the loss of revenue that must accrue from the experiment proposed. It was stated by the noble Lord, the member for Liverpool, that he voted for this proposition, because it was necessary to show the colonists that the mother country had since sympathized with their distresses, and not that he expected much substantial relief would be afforded them by its adoption. Now, his noble friend, who had attended the Committee which had sat upon this subject, knew that, only that very day, three or four specific propositions, pointing out modes by which the West-Indians might be benefitted, were affirmed by that Committee; and his noble friend must have known, from what passed in the Committee, that there was throughout a concurrent feeling of anxiety to devise some means, by which relief might be afforded to the West Indies, compatible with the other interests of the country. The 1248 House was told, that the reduction in the duty would not be attended with any diminution of revenue. He certainly could not suppose, that the right hon. Gentleman, the member for the University of Cambridge, concurred in that opinion, for he remembered that he counted upon a considerable falling-off in the revenue on the occasion of the last reduction of the sugar duties; and the right hon. Gentleman was borne out by the fact, for he found that the diminution of the duty, up to November, 1831, was 350,000l. The returns for the years 1830 and 1831 could not be compared with any degree of propriety, because, for one quarter of the former year, bounties were offered on the export of sugar; the operation of which would, of course, be calculated to mislead. No doubt, generally speaking, the reduction of duty upon an article was followed by such an increase of consumption as to go very far in making up the deficiency that would be otherwise occasioned to the revenue. But he did not think that this principle acted with its usual force in the case of sugar, for they had seen the most extraordinary decline in the price of sugar, which was the same thing as regarded consumption as a reduction of duty, and had not seen an increase of consumption at all in the ratio of that decline of price. Sugars had declined from 53s. and 54s. in bond to 24s. in bond, the difference being equal to more than the amount of the whole duty, but there had been by no means a relative increase in the consumption. Without, therefore, denying the general principle that a diminished duty augmented consumption, he thought that, in this case, they could not reckon upon the deficiency of revenue occasioned by a reduction of the duty being filled up by increased consumption. He put it to the hon. member for Kircudbright and others, who had so sanguinely assumed this proposition, to consider, before they built upon such speculations, what was the amount of revenue which it was proposed to put in jeopardy by the Motion of the noble Lord opposite. It was no less than from 750,000l. to 800,000l. Supposing a defalcation to that extent took place, how, with the revenue in its present condition, could that loss be supplied? Hon. Gentlemen came down to the House, and talked largely of the necessity of maintaining public credit; and they had taunted his noble friend with the deficiency arising from a too sanguine calculation of the effects of a principle 1249 which hon. Gentlemen opposite were now supporting. But if, on former occasions, they had urged those considerations, with what confidence could they now support the Motion of the noble Marquis, the member for Buckinghamshire, when it would, according to all calculations, go to increase the deficiency, or to prevent it being filled up; and would thus leave the country, if not with a larger arrear than at present, certainly with a similar one next year? He would ask those Gentlemen—and, indeed, the whole House, for all were equally interested in the support of public credit—whether, by putting such a sum in jeopardy (and the most sanguine advocates for the principle now contended for could not expect that the deficiency would be made good in the first year of its operation), whether they were acting on principles of good faith with the public creditor? Were they prepared to make this sacrifice, without providing other means to meet the engagements the country had entered into with him. He objected, then, to this Motion, because the benefit that would be reaped by the West-Indians was not proportionate to the sacrifice the revenue would sustain. Even if that were not the case, he could not consent to afford this relief—supposing it were likely to be effectual, which he did not think it would—on terms that would place in the greatest possible danger the public faith of this country towards the national creditor. The lion, and learned Gentleman, the member for Kircudbright, had placed this proposition on grounds which he was scarcely warranted in assuming. He said, that it was necessary to agree to the Motion of the noble Lord, for the purpose of convincing the West-Indians, that this House was considering their interests. Now, he believed that the West-Indians would feel just as well satisfied of that fact by the Resolutions which had been agreed to that day in Committee, as by adopting this Amendment, not specifically proposed, but only hinted at by that Committee among the various measures of relief which it had suggested. The proposition made by his noble friend was, to continue the sugar duties according to their present rate for six months, and it was accompanied with a declaration, that he contemplated introducing some measures of fiscal relief for the West-Indians, but that relief would be coupled with conditions, without which he could not, consistently with the pledge he gave last year, grant it; and these con- 1250 ditions were, the adoption of such regulations in the colonies having legislatures of their own, as the Crown colonies might be subject to. He wished to ascertain how the hon. Members opposite proposed to deal with that question; he would ask hon. Gentlemen who took the same view of the subject as his noble friend, well to consider before they gave their vote in favour of the proposition of the noble Marquis, whether the result of his Motion being agreed to would not be, to take away all opportunity of redeeming that pledge? If the duty on sugar was reduced to 20s. without adopting the principle laid down by his noble friend, of discriminating between the colonies, and conferring additional advantages on those which accepted the measures proposed by the mother country, the means of enforcing those measures would be destroyed. He said, then, that those Gentlemen who thought it advisable to redeem such pledge, or, at least, to give time to see how the regulations alluded to would be met in the colonies, and whether the local legislatures adopted them, would do well to consider whether the Resolution of the noble Lord would not annihilate all hope of redeeming that pledge, of enforcing that condition, and of doing that which, holding the principles they did, they must look upon as an imperative duty. In conclusion, he must say, that he hoped that those Gentlemen who wished to give relief to the West Indies would not support a measure which would be a benefit to the West Indies only proportionate to the half of the sum which would be lost to the revenue, while that loss, amounting to 750,000l. or 800,000l. would place the public credit in considerable danger.
considered the explanation of the right hon. Gentleman anything but satisfactory. All that related to the measures of relief intended to be afforded by Government to the West-Indian interest was involved in uncertainty and mystery. He could not sufficiently regret that whenever any arguments were adduced in that House for, or in behalf of, any suffering commercial interest in the West Indies, it was sure to be met, by way of estoppel, by an allusion to the still stronger claims of suffering humanity, for purposes which it was not important that he should trace to their source. Difficulties, undoubtedly, did exist in the way of settling the question; but he could not allow, that a great interest was to be kept in a suffering condition until they were completely re- 1251 moved. He did not see how the question of humanity at all affected the subject before the House. The right hon. Gentleman had certainly said, that the vote would preclude the House from following up the resolution of last year, but that was by no means the case, for the further measures of fiscal relief which the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, had in contemplation might be accompanied with the very conditions he had alluded to. When they had the measures of relief and their accompanying conditions before them, they could consider the two together, and see how far they would offer a boon to the West Indies.
§ Mr. Poulett Thomson
denied the charge of the noble Lord, that he had first introduced the subject of slavery to the notice of the House in conjunction with this question. When his noble friend (Lord Althorp) had stated his views to the House, and had explained what he intended to do for the West Indies, he had expressly stated that he should make it one of the conditions for determining his conduct, that the islands having legislatures of their own should adopt the regulation which had been adopted in the Crown colonies. With regard to his motives for making the observations the noble Lord had alluded to, if the noble Lord supposed that they were not as pure as any the noble Lord professed, he begged leave to give that supposition a flat contradiction.
said, he did not quarrel with the proceedings of the noble Lord, but he did quarrel with the proceedings of the right hon. Gentleman for including in a discussion on the question whether the duties on sugar should be 20s. or 24s., the question of the condition of the slaves. If it were the intention of the Government that no relief should be given to the West Indies, unless they submitted to restrictions, why was that not stated before going into the Committee? He was astonished, if the Government entertained such opinions, that it should have made a grant of 100,000l. to Barbadoes without first insisting on that island adopting the regulations. He begged not to be understood as attributing improper motives to the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Lord Howick
did not think the Committee exactly understood the manner in which the two propositions were connected. The cape stood thus. In April, 1831, his noble friend, on the occasion of the motion of the hon. member for Weymouth, stated, 1252 it to be his opinion, that the time was come at which it would be proper to enforce, by some means or other, upon the colonies—having Legislatures of their own—the adoption of certain measures with respect to slavery; and that, as a means of attaining that object, it was the intention of the Government to send out such a code of laws as would answer the wishes of Parliament and of the country; and the acceptance of which by any colony should be the condition of its benefitting by any financial relief that this country might be able to afford to our West-Indian possessions generally. In conformity with the intention so expressed, an order in Council was made on the 5th of November last. The hon. and learned member for Eye, took a large share in discussing that Order in Council, and he must be aware that, without a departure from the pledges of this House, in April last, it was impossible for his noble friend to propose any measure of relief to the planter, which should not be conditional in the manner he had stated. This had been duly intimated to colonies having legislatures of their own, and unless the House was prepared to abandon the measures to which it was solemnly pledged, any relief to the planter must be conditional. Suppose the Motion of the noble Lord was carried, what would be its effect? Why no relief whatever would be given to the colonies which were most distressed—such as Jamaica, Barbadoes, and Antigua—whilst Trinidad and Demerara, where the Order in Council of November last would apply from the time of its arrival, would send in their sugars under it; but the other colonies would want some months to consider the matter. If the reduction were to take place, therefore, from the 5th of April, with this condition attached to it, the Crown colonies would have a great advantage over the Legislative colonies. This, he believed, was the manner in which his noble friend put the question, and explained his reason for taking the duties for six months only. By this means, too, the House had a perfect assurance that, in the course of the present Session, the subject would be again brought before it; for if it were not, sugar, on account of the Act expiring in October, would subsequently come in duty free. Under these circumstances, and in justice, as his right hon. friend had stated, to the public creditor, who required that they should not make this large reduction of duty without providing for the deficiency 1253 that must result from it in the revenue, and injustice to the old colonies themselves, which were most distressed, they ought not to adopt the Amendment proposed by the noble Marquis, but rather agree to grant the duties for six months, and thus give all the colonies an opportunity of enjoying the advantage of whatever relief the House might be able to afford them.
said, in the few observations he had to make, he would not permit himself to be diverted from the subject immediately before the House, or follow the noble Lord who had just sat down into the question of those ulterior measures, of which they had received notice in the last Session of Parliament, and which would undergo deliberate discussion at the proper time. He did not think those questions were immediately connected with the subject before the House. He considered the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, was right in mentioning them in the manner he did, and in refraining from entering into further detail with respect to them. It would have been well if others who followed the noble Lord had taken the same view of the matter, instead of making unnecessary and undefinable allusions to ulterior measures. With respect to the question before the House, he had considered that it would have been desirable, if possible, to postpone this discussion until the noble Lord was enabled to make some statement to the House of his intention or power of relieving the West-Indian colonies from a part of their distress, or of informing them whether he had it in his power to afford them any relief whatever. He felt that, to enter into the discussion before that period, would be premature. It appeared that the noble Lord had despaired—in the interval which yet remained to him, before he was obliged to bring on this matter—of being able to state whether any relief could be afforded or not, or of submitting to Parliament distinctly what the ulterior views of the Government might be. They were called upon now, then, to come to the decision of the question before them, not so much upon, its merits as upon the consequences which must infallibly result from their proceeding in this matter with reference to the temper and feelings of those whose interests were materially bound up in the decision they might come to. He must confess that he never felt greater difficulty in arriving at a decision upon a question than upon that at present before them. He 1254 felt what he had often expressed in that House, that it was their great duty to maintain the revenue of the country at a height which would enable them to discharge all their obligations. He felt as strongly as the Vice President of the Board of Trade, the necessity of preventing any addition to the existing deficiency of the revenue. But, on the other hand, he also felt they could not say to the interests now at stake, "We were so unduly liberal to others last year, that the revenue is suffering, and, therefore, we cannot help you." He felt that it was unfair to them, that because, last year, immense and uncalled-for concessions was made to other interests of the country, therefore they must be neglected. He felt this the more, as when those concessions were made, he had objected to them on the ground of their reducing the revenue too much, and thereby preventing the House from making any concession in the very quarter that now applied for it. Impressed, then, more than ever with the advantage of maintaining a surplus revenue, acknowledging the fairness of the claim now preferred, and also, that the parties who at present applied, suffered in no ordinary degree, and far more than any of those classes to whom relief had been lately extended—he never was under greater embarrassment with respect to the decision he ought to come to, than at the present moment. He confessed, however, that if there was any truth in the documents on the Table—if there was any justice in the reasoning to be drawn from them—he could satisfy the House that the risk to the revenue, which would be incurred by the adoption of the proposition of his noble friend, was not much greater than that which would result from the proposition of the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which was simply to continue the sugar duties for six months—holding out to the country the expectation that, before the expiration of that period, some measures of fiscal relief to the West Indies would be carried into operation, in conjunction with the imposition of discriminating duties upon the produce of different colonies, according as they acquiesced or not in the views of Government upon another subject. What must be the effect of such a system upon the revenue must be considered. His noble friend, the member for Liverpool, had stated, that expectation would be excited, and the operations of trade embarrassed; and he asked any in- 1255 dividual, conversant not merely with the operations of trade, but with the feelings of human nature, whether he thought that any one would purchase sugar till such reduction of the duty should have taken place, or, at least, whether the consumption would not be previously reduced to the lowest possible amount? If the noble Lord had held out, that, at the end of six months he would raise the duty, why then, indeed, he would have had an increased revenue, from the increased quantity that would be taken out of bond; but, as this proposition now stood, he appealed to his own good sense to say, whether the proposal had not a tendency to reduce the consumption, and, consequently, the revenue, to the lowest possible amount? He said, then, that if the House adopted the proposition of the noble Lord, after the statement with which it was accompanied, the loss to the revenue would be very little inferior to what it would be if the duty were at once reduced by the amount proposed by his noble friend the member for Buckinghamshire. Add to this consideration, the motive which he supposed every man who regarded the interests of the colonies as interests important to the country, had to give some evidence in support of his solicitude on the subject, and they had sufficient justification for not adhering to the scale of duties now proposed by the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Vice President of the Board of Trade had attempted to show, that the reduction of 4s. in the duty would not produce that great extension of consumption which was necessary to give effectual relief to the West-Indians; and he was quite ready to agree with him, that, on the other hand, the reduction of that amount of duty, if the degree of consumption remained the same, would create a loss to the revenue of upwards of 700,000l. But, when they looked at the documents on the Table of the House, they observed, that the last reduction of 3s. per cwt., instead of producing the loss of revenue, which every one calculated upon did not produce any at all. It was within the knowledge of the House that the sugar duties were reduced 3s. per cwt. from the 5th July, 1830. He agreed that the taking the year ending 5th July, 1831, would not be a fair mode of estimating the duty, as it would include a period from July to October, 1830, when an artificial excitement was given to the export trade in sugar. He would avoid that error in 1256 his calculation, and would take the half year ending 5th July, 1830, when there was no expectation of a reduction of duty, and compare it with the half year ending on July 5th, 1831, after the excitement had passed away. Taking that as the term of his comparison, he found that the amount of revenue obtained from sugar in the half year ending July 5, 1831, was more by 27,000l. than the revenue obtained from sugar in the half year ending July 5, 1830, though the rate of duty was lower by 3s. The consumption had increased sufficient to make up that sum. He believed that the reduction of duty of 4s. would not cause any material deficiency of revenue, and he, therefore, would support the Motion for the reduction of duty; and he thought it would be particularly useful, not merely for the relief it would actually afford to the West Indies, but as a sign of the sympathy of the Legislature of this country with the colonies. It would contribute to rally around us all the strength and all the attachment of our colonies, which could not fail to be, in these critical times, of great importance.
§ Mr. Burge
contended, that the colonists were not now calling for what the noble Lord and his friends seemed to consider a boon, but for that which had been long promised, and denied them—an act of justice. Over and over again the colonists had been told, that the war duties on sugar should be repealed. It was for the House to consider, whether they would now refuse the little which was asked, or whether they would, by persisting in the course recommended by the Government, place the colonists in such a desperate condition as to render them unable to continue their connection with this country. The House was pledged to a reduction of these duties, and he asserted, that he was the best advocate for the public credit of the country, when he called on them for that reduction. He felt it his duty, at that moment, to abstain from making any comments on the effect of the fiscal regulations lately introduced. A better opportunity would arise for the discussion of that question. He would content himself, therefore, by expressing the gratification he felt on hearing the sympathy for the West-Indians which seemed to be felt by all who had spoken on the subject, and he hoped they would make that sympathy effectual, by voting for the proposition of the noble Lord.
§ Mr. Robinson
observed, that the Vice President of the Board of Trade rested his 1257 strongest argument on that injury which a reduction would produce to the revenue—an injury so much greater than it was able at present to bear. Now, without admitting all the extent of that injury, he must say, that, before the Government made up their minds to give up voluntarily a million and a half of taxation last Session, they should have considered the sufferings of the colonists; for, in his opinion, the reduction of the duties on candles and on coals was not half so much required for the prosperity of the country as the reduction of the burthens of the colonies, with a view to the increase of the consumption of the articles they produced. He trusted that the House would consent to the present proposition, as the commencement of a course which would be productive of good rather than of loss to the revenue, while, at the same time, it would add much to the comforts of all classes of the people.
§ Mr. Patrick M. Stewart
said, that the argument of every Chancellor of the Exchequer, who had been in office for some time past, on questions of this nature, had invariably been founded on economy. Their maxim had uniformly been, "my poverty, and not my will, consents." This state of the case placed the House in a very delicate and peculiar situation, because, under such circumstances it was necessarily called upon to decide between the distresses of the Exchequer, and the still greater distresses of a large portion of the community. He had listened with great attention to every thing that had been said with respect to this question, upon both sides of the House, and he concurred in the anxiety which every man must feel to preserve undiminished and untarnished the public credit. If he thought that, by voting in favour of the Amendment proposed by the noble Marquis, he should, in the slightest degree, place the revenue in jeopardy, he would refrain from doing so; and he would rather sacrifice what he conceived to be vast interests, though of an individual character, than adopt such a course. He agreed in every observation that had been made in support of the Amendment, which was sanctioned and recommended by the success which had attended experiments of the like description on articles of not a dissimilar nature, and there would be no risk whatever in adopting that plan. It had been said by the right hon. Gentleman, that the reduction proposed would cause a diminution of 700,000l. or 800,000l. Supposing that a decrease in the duty on sugar 1258 were to cause an increased consumption to the extent of 40,000 hogsheads, which was about the present surplus produced, and cause that quantity to be taken from the market, the duty payable on this quantity would be about 900,000l. That was no vague idea or visionary notion. Chancellors of the Exchequer who had preceded the noble Lord, had found that such were the results of a reduction of duty. There was a case in point, coffee. Prior to 1808, a duty of 2s. 2d. was imposed upon that article; and that duty then produced 119,500l. In the course of that year, the duty was reduced from 2s. 2d. to 7d.; and in 1809, the year after this deduction, the smaller duty produced 270,000l. The duty on coffee had since been reduced to 6d., and it produced to the revenue about half a million of money. He would not trouble the Committee by entering into further details in support of this argument. He would only say, that the experience of every staple article of great national consumption would bear him out in this assertion. They all recollected the result of the arrangement which was made in the case of spirits. The duty was at once reduced thirty per cent, and the following year the quantity consumed increased upwards of fifty per cent, and the duty increased until it attained its present state. Standing upon this ground, therefore, and feeling as much disposed to take care of the revenue as the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself, he was disposed to adopt the course which he had expressed his determination of following. The colonies were now in that state that something must be done for them; and he entreated the House to recollect, that this was a pressing and a peculiar juncture, that much misery and distress prevailed, and that it was absolutely necessary something should be attempted for the relief of the colonists. He also begged the House to recollect, that it was not now called upon to vote in favour of the colonies as an act of kindness or courtesy, but as an act of justice. He feared, with other hon. Members who had spoken, that there was a kind of anti-colonial feeling in the House, and a wish to undervalue the importance of the colonies, which he most sincerely lamented. Buonaparte held a different opinion. "After many unsuccessful and fruitless attempts, I find," he said, "that I cannot conquer England while she retains her colonies." He would only say, in allusion to that opinion, in the 1259 words of one who had passed much of his time in inspecting, and who so well treated of, our colonial institutions, "Some politicians, with more rhetoric than information, are disposed to hold these things too cheap; but every seaman, every merchant, and every practical statesman, knows their inestimable value." In this opinion he most heartily and entirely concurred. He might be prejudiced, because his lot in life was dependent upon the prosperity of these colonies; but if he could divest himself of that feeling—if he could look at them with a wider eye, as an individual perfectly unconnected with them; seeing the great advantages they produced to this country, he should say, that the country was mainly dependent for its welfare on the prosperity of its colonies, and that it was its duty to protect them and relieve their distresses. To give his vote effect, he would beg leave to read to the House a short quotation from a memorable debate which took place about eighteen months ago. The right hon. Gentleman, the Vice President of the Board of Trade, took a distinguished part in that debate. What was his opinion? Why that the duties on sugar should be reduced to this identical amount. In that same debate, Mr. Huskisson said:—"Feeling, however, as I do upon this subject, I say openly, that even if we were to suffer for the next six months some loss, such, in my conscience, do I believe to be the deplorable state of the planters in those colonies—such is the suffering and distress to which many highly respectable families, and the children of affluent parents, have been reduced, by the general fall in the prices of all West-India produce—that I think it would be a wise and sound policy, on the part of the Parliament of this country, to manifest its sympathy and its feeling for that long-suffering class of our fellow-subjects, by offering, even at some temporary inconvenience to ourselves, all that relief and assistance which, in the present distressed and embarrassed condition of all classes, it is in our power to give them. Much as the West Indians have been promised, from time to time, nothing has as yet been done for them. Up to this hour, although every class in the country has received some relief, nothing has been done for them. No attempt has been made to relieve their staple commodity from the burthen which oppresses it, although the reductions which have been made in the duties on coffee, and other articles of the same description, give us rea- 1260 son to hope, that the effect of such relief would tend to increase, rather than diminish, that revenue, which is supposed to offer the obstacle."* Agreeing in that opinion, he should give his vote in favour of the noble Lord.
§ Mr. Adeane
expressed his determination to support the proposition of the noble Lord, both on account of the relief it would afford the colonists, and the addition which it would make to the comforts of the poorer classes in this country. If he thought the reduction of duty would amount to anything like 700,000l. or 800,000l.—he might pause before he agreed to injure the revenue to that extent, but being convinced it could not reach 400,000l., he would not allow the fear of a reduction of that amount to prevent his consenting to an act of policy and justice.
§ Mr. Hunt
agreed, also, that the reduction could not operate injuriously, and he would, therefore, vote for it. It was a question, indeed, from the condition of the people of this country, whether the continuance of such high duties would not lead to a reduction of revenue by a diminution of consumption? The reduction of the duty would be a benefit both to the consumers in England, and the planters in the West Indies, and it should have his cordial support. Considering the state of both classes, he would willingly vote for a still larger reduction of the duty, if any body would propose it. That the men who had formerly brought forward a measure to reduce these duties should now propose to continue them did not surprise him, for he knew how men changed their opinions with their seats. Whenever they found themselves fixed on the Treasury bench, the Treasury must be, above all things, supported. If, however, Ministers had thought more of the Treasury when they were voting away large sums for the support of a large standing army, and for answering other unnecessary expenses, perhaps they might have done more on this occasion. Such was the state of poverty into which the lower classes were plunged, that tea and sugar were, with many, their best support, and, therefore, he contended, under all the circumstances, this reduction ought to be made.
thought, on the whole, this discussion had been of a satisfactory character, inasmuch as Gentlemen* Hansard's Parl. Debates, New Series, vol. xxv. p, 533.1261 had consulted their own opinions and independence in the consideration of this important question. This had afforded him great pleasure, because all questions affecting the commerce of the country ought to be especially decided without reference to party feeling. He had upon all occasions endeavoured most conscientiously to divest his mind of political friendships, whenever such questions had been brought under the notice of the House. On this occasion, however, he was free to confess, that he felt the welfare of our colonies was important to the well-being of the country. Under this impression, he would beg to make a few remarks upon the subject now under discussion. He had been taunted with having observed at one time, that the silk trade seemed to be a condemned trade in this country. He might, he thought, with equal justice say now, that the colonists were a condemned body in the community. The course pursued towards them was, undoubtedly, that which was only justifiable towards the convicted; but it was with him a serious consideration, whether they might not obtain a full sense of the value and importance of the West Indies, when that knowledge would be too late. With respect, however, to the present proposition, he must say, he thought it could do no good to this country, or afford any material relief to the sufferers, although, as the expression of sympathy, it might, in the present state of their affairs, be of some service. The real question was, however, just this—would a reduction of duty increase the revenue? He thought not. And in the present financial condition of this country, he could not, under such circumstances, hazard so large a portion of revenue on the experiment proposed by the noble Lord. He must add, at the same time, that he deprecated these votes for six months, because they gave a check to commercial transactions, and unsettled all the arrangements of trade. No man could, indeed, be expected to hazard his capital in any undertaking, when the permanency of the regulations affecting it was so uncertain. He did not wish to enter into the question of the fiscal regulations applied to the colonies; but this he would say, that the West-Indians were so much reduced in credit by hurricanes and by insurrections, that no man connected with them could raise money on his property there, even at two years' purchase, to build up again his fallen fortunes. Without, however, pursuing this subject 1262 further, he would say, that he must give his vote at present in defence of the revenue, and in opposition to the Motion of the noble Lord.
§ Mr. Fowell Buxton
said, that in his vote, he should only be influenced by what would benefit the negro; and, although he had no hostility to the West-Indian interest, yet when he knew that every relief to the planter would only be the cause of additional work to the negro, he would not vote for the present Amendment. If the question respecting the West Indies were not speedily settled, it would settle itself in an alarming way, and the only way in which it could be settled was, by the extinction of slavery. The noble Lord was, in his opinion, right to refuse the planters relief until the planters had granted the amelioration to which they were pledged. When he heard of insurrection, he was not much surprised at it, and was convinced, that nothing effectual would be done to suppress it until the question of the extinction of slavery was set at rest. Being of opinion that the Chancellor of the Exchequer's plan of combining relief to the planter with the amelioration of the negro's condition was good, he would vote against the Amendment.
said, that he would not, like the last speaker, enter upon the question of slavery, and he certainly did not believe the statement made by the hon. member, that relief to the planter was not attended with relief to the slave. What he rose to propose was, that an ad valorem duty should be laid upon sugar, as it was unjust to the planter who, like himself, was obliged to sell at 40s., to pay as much as the man who sold at 60s. the cwt. Although a West-Indian proprietor, he was, nevertheless, unwilling to embarrass the Government at the present moment; and, because he believed they would do every thing in their power to relieve that body as soon as possible, he would vote against the Amendment.
, in explanation, said, that he wished to lower the duty on the lower-priced sugar, but not on the higher, as the best means of increasing the consumption. He must, however, vote with Ministers in the first instance, for if the noble Marquis's Amendment were carried, he (Mr. Warburton) would be precluded from proposing his.
observed, that, on the contrary, if the hon. Gentleman voted that the duties should continue, he would have 1263 no power to propose a reduction of any of them. If, however, he voted for the lower rate of duty, he might afterwards propose an ascending scale.
§ The Committee divided on the Amendment: Ayes 134; Noes 148—Majority 14.