HC Deb 01 August 1833 vol 20 cc256-61
Mr. Ewart

rose to move a resolution, "that it is just and expedient to admit the sugar and coffee of our East-India possessions (the produce of free labour) on equal terms with the sugar and coffee of the West Indies and Mauritius." He referred to the grant which had only last night passed the House, which the present age deemed an act of generosity, which after-times might designate as an act of prodigality; but, under either title, the claims of the country for more unrestricted commerce were confirmed by it, and he thought it gave to the subject now before them a peculiar claim to the consideration of Parliament. The principle that no disadvantageous distinction of duty should prevail against our eastern colonies, was conceded in the case of certain articles. Why should it not be conceded in the case of colonial produce generally? Wheat and flour, the produce of India, came in under equal duties with the wheat and flour of Canada. Why should our East India sugar pay 32s., while our West-India sugar paid 24s. per cwt? Why should the coffee of Hindostan pay 9d. per lb. while West Indian coffee paid only 6d., and East-India rum be liable (if introduced) to a duty of 15s. per gallon, while West India rum was admissible at 9s. 3d? He called the attention of the House to the great difference in the amount of our East and West-India produce. Returns recently laid before the House showed, that last year, the West Indies and Mauritius sent us about 4,000,000 cwt. of sugar, while the boundless regions of India sent only about 88,000cwt. So of coffee. The coffee last year imported from the West Indies amounted to about 24,500,000 lb.; while all the coffee imported from our eastern colonies did not amount to half that importation. Was there not a probability that a diminution of duty would increase the supply from India? He would refer, as an illustration of that supposition, to the immense increase of sugar in the Mauritius since the reduction of the duty on Mauritius sugar, in 1825. The production in the Mauritius was now nearly five-fold what it was in that year. With regard to coffee, it was a common subject of observation, that, since the duty was lowered to 6d. per lb. in 1824, the consumption had immensely increased. But, if there had been no restrictive duty, he (Mr. Ewart) maintained that the increase would have been much more considerable. The demand of the consumer of this country was pent in, and circumscribed within the narrow limits of the West Indian supply. The consumption would have been much greater but for this restriction. The consumption of the United States had enormously increased, and far exceeded our own. This he attributed to the reduction of the duties, and the freedom of the trade in that country. Almost all the foreign coffee which we import into this country is now re-exported: very little enters into home consumption. Formerly the greatest portion of our West-Indian coffee was re-exported: it now is almost the exclusive support of our home-market. The country, he maintained, would use more coffee if it were more liberally admitted. The consumption was limited, simply because coffee could not be procured with facility, not because the people did not want it. He maintained, that Brazil coffee and St. Domingo, of equally good quality with Jamaica coffee, could be supplied to this country one-third cheaper than the coffee of Jamaica. He asked why they did not give facilities to the admission of both the sugar and the coffee of those countries? Why, above all, did they not give facilities to the admission of those articles from Hindostan? The connexion of that great region with this country, gave it a peculiar claim to every possible relief. It might be said, that India could not supply us with sugar or with coffee. If so, why need our West-India colonists fear its competition? But, if there ever was a time, when it was expedient to encourage the labour of India, it was now, when that vast country was opened to British enterprise, industry, and science. He (Mr. Ewart) thought that the cultivation of sugar and coffee in India might be materially increased. He drew his inference on this subject from the evidence now on the Table of the House. Dr. Wallick, an eminent naturalist, when examined before the revenue sub-committee on the affairs of India, was asked "What are the products of India most likely to be of commercial importance? "He answers" "Sugar, cotton, coffee, silk, indigo and tobacco." "Do you name them in the order of their importance?" He answers, "I place sugar before Indigo, because indigo is limited in consumption; sugar perfectly unlimited." Mr. Gisborne (a most competent witness) says, that the sugar cane of India is as good as that of the West-Indies. Mr. Holt Mackenzie (a most distinguished witness) says "as far as my judgment goes, the manufacture of sugar appears to be very ill-conducted in India; and the land for the sugar-cane is very abundant." He conceived that the produce of sugar might be extended by a proper mode of manufacture. Other witnesses (both before the Lords and Commons) gave similar evidence. With respect to coffee, it was originally itself an eastern product. The first coffee taken to the West Indies was conveyed by the Dutch from Batavia to Surinam. Mr. Sullivan (in the evidence before the committee in 1831) is asked, "Has the cultivation of coffee been introduced among the Ghauts?" He answers "To a very considerable extent, and it is found to answer extremely well." Other witnesses gave similar evidence respecting Coimbettore. Dr. Wallick also said, that the lower provinces of Bengal and the Burmese territories, were particularly suited to the growth of coffee. The truth was, that time alone was requisite for the extension of these productions. For this very reason we ought to give immediate facilities for the cultivation of them. But he (Mr. Ewart) asked for these facilities on another ground. Had not the people of England a right to the best procurable article at the lowest exchangeable price? Had not our merchants this right, as an exchange for their exports?—our manufacturers, as an exchange for their fabrics? Above all, was not this concession due to the consumer? If there was one disease of our commerce more peculiar than any other, it was the difficulty of procuring returns. It appeared by the petitions before that House, that, while we exported 3,000,000l. worth of our manufactures to Brazil the high duties on Brazilian produce enabled us to bring back very little in return. Foreign merchants and foreign vessels displaced our own. Why did we not give facilities to the importation of the sugar of Siam and of China? Sugar was successfully cultivated in those countries. Sugar refining was first practised by the inhabitants of the province of Fokien, in China. But, above all, he asked, why we did not give facilities to the labour of India? It had a paramount claim on our sense of justice, as well as on our feelings of personal interest. The simple and primitive manufactures of Hindoostan had been overwhelmed by the gigantic machinery of Manchester. The capital and skill of England had supplanted the early and rude productions of unimproved art. If we had deprived the Hindoos of the resource of their simple manufacture, ought we to deny them the privilege which nature gave them, of supplying us with the growth of their fertile and unbounded plains? He appealed to the Parliament of this country,—he appealed to the Government on behalf of India as well as of England; and, he believed, that though not at first entirely successful, he should not finally appeal in vain. He concluded by moving the resolution.

Lord Althorp

considered the motion to be one of that kind which it was desirable the House should not entertain. He thought it would be most inexpedient for the House to come to a decision on this question at the present time. It was, as yet, impossible to foresee what might be the effects of the measure for the abolition of slavery in the West Indies, and, therefore, he thought it would be premature for the House to legislate at the present time, on the subject introduced by the hon. Member. In former times, when this question had been brought under the consideration of the House, the case stood in a very different situation from that in which it was now placed. At those periods the sugar of the West-Indies very much exceeded in quantity the consumption of this country, and he therefore always thought that the proprietors of the West-Indian colonies were more apprehensive than necessary, of the admission of foreign sugar. The price of their sugar in this country depended on the price which sugar bore on the continent; and, therefore, they had no effectual monopoly in this country. The case had now, however, assumed a very different appearance. In consequence of the operation of the Slavery Abolition Bill, there might be a great falling off in the production of sugar, and it would not be wise to legislate on this question until the effect of that measure was seen. The hon. Member might, perhaps, say that his Motion went merely to declare the expediency of equalizing the duties on sugar and coffee; but he (Lord Althorp) need not tell the hon. Gentleman, that, if the House carried his Motion, it ought to be followed by some practical effect, and that must be an alteration in the existing law. He trusted, therefore, that the House would not, by acquiescing in the Motion, bind itself at the present moment to any alteration of the law. He did not mean to give any opinion, or pledge himself in any way on this question; and not wishing to meet the Motion with a negative, the only mode left him of dealing with it was by moving the previous question.

Mr. Lyall

supported the original Motion. Justice to India, the markets of which were completely glutted with British manufactures, demanded its success. He was determined next Session to bring the whole question of the fiscal regulations, between this country and India under the consideration of the House.

Mr. Davenport

, as the representative of a populous and extensive manufacturing district, felt bound to support the resolution of the hon. member for Liverpool, but he would only trouble the House by referring to one of those simple facts to which the hon. Member had drawn the attention of the House. In that populous district which he had the honour to represent, the articles of sugar and coffee, and he might also add tea, had become almost as much the necessaries of life as the article of bread itself, and he should, therefore, vote for any measure which would tend to give them at a cheaper rate. He confessed he felt some alarm when he heard the noble Lord (Althorp) give notice that he should provide for the large sum voted to the West-India interest, by a duty on colonial produce, but he entreated the noble Lord, if such was his intention, that the articles of sugar and coffee might be exempted. Another important object to which he begged attention, and he thought the House would consider it deserving of attention, was, that cheap sugar, and cheap coffee and tea, would do more towards remedying the evils of beer-shops and gin-shops than any other measure whatever. On these grounds he should vote for the resolution now before the House.

Mr. Poulett Thomson

said, that he quite agreed with the object proposed by his hon. friend's resolution, for he thought that it would be inexpedient eventually to prevent the East-India merchants from sending over produce on the same terms as West-India merchants; and he only opposed its adoption because he considered that present circumstances were not propitious to its being followed up.

Mr. Ewart

was rejoiced to hear the noble Lord was not pledged on this great question. Relying on the practice as well as the professions of the Government, he would trust to that assurance, and not press his motion to a division.

Motion withdrawn.

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