HC Deb 06 March 1833 vol 16 cc284-91
Lord Sandon

said, he had to present a petition on a subject of much importance to the commercial interests of the country, from the merchants of Liverpool. The petition came from a society calling itself the Brazilian Association, and they prayed for a remittance of the excessive duties on the sugars imported into this country from Brazil for the purpose of refining. In accordance with the objections which had been made on the subject of presenting petitions, he should not detain the House with any prefatory remarks, but he could not permit himself to present the petition without making the House fully acquainted with its contents. He must, therefore, read its contents to the House. The petitioners stated— That they carry on a very extensive commerce with Brazil, in the produce and manufactures of the United Kingdom, and are suffering great inconvenience and loss from the difficulty of obtaining a medium of return for their merchandise, and a back-loading for their ship-ping, arising through the operation of the present state of the law, which, by the imposition of excessive duties on the importation for consumption or manufacture, of the chief products of Brazil—namely, sugar, coffee, cocoa, and rum, prohibits their importation, except to a very limited extent, in transitu, and admits only for consumption the articles of cotton, tobacco, and hides. That the trade with Brazil has now become one of the most important branches of our foreign commerce, and deserves the especial protection and encouragement of the State; our exports of British manufactures produce to that empire, amounting annually to the value of upwards of three millions sterling, which manufactures and produce are admitted freely, and on the most favoured terms, for consumption in that country, and with which its people are almost exclusively clothed. That Brazil, not possessing any extent of shipping, these manufactures and produce are carried out to that country, almost exclusively in British vessels. That Brazil affords ample means of payment for this merchandise, in her many and rich productions, and of freighting back to this kingdom an immense tonnage of British shipping, but that none of these articles are admissible on practicable terms, for use or consumption in this country, except the before-mentioned articles of cotton, tobacco, and hides, which form but a very small portion of the value of the whole. That, in consequence of these prohibitory laws, upwards of two millions of British capital is forced into other channels, giving employment and encouragement to foreign shipping and manufactures, paying to foreign European States freights, commissions, and charges, to the great loss of the British shipowner and merchant, as also to the general interest of British commerce, manufactures, and revenue. That it is within the knowledge of your petitioners, that one important branch of the manufacture of this kingdom—namely, that of sugar refining, has, for some time past, been only partially and unprofitably employed, and incapable of competing with foreign manufacture, owing to the scarcity and high price of the raw material, even with the advantage of the bounty of 8s. per cwt., which your petitioners believe to be paid out of the revenue, on the exportation of refined colonial sugars from this country. That, in proof of the injurious effect and extent of this monopoly and high bounty to the revenue, to the commerce, and to the comforts of the people of this kingdom, your petitioners humbly represent, that, although the price of British plantation sugar has been, on an average of the past year, as shown by the Gazette, about 28s. 6d. per cwt., the price of the refined sugar, called ordinary lumps, delivered free on board ship, and including several charges, besides that of manufacture, was only 25s. to 27s. per cwt.; the drawback on exportation being 36s. 10d, per cwt., and that double refined crushed sugars, having a drawback of 43s. 3d. per cwt., have been and are selling, also free on board, at 29s. to 30s. per cwt., thus giving to the foreign consumer this important article, in the manufactured state, at from 1s. to 3s. per cwt. less than the cost of the raw material; the whole expense of manufacture and difference of price being paid by the Treasury for the benefit of the foreign consumer, and to the injury of the sale of Brazil sugar in foreign markets. That the effect of this bounty on the exportation of refined sugars and bastards is not only a direct annual loss to the Treasury of from 300,000l. to 400,000l., but an indirect tax upon the people to the extent of from one to two millions sterling, since the price to the consumer in this country is enhanced in proportion to the bounty paid on exportation to the foreign consumer; and further, tends materially to lessen the consumption, and, thereby, also the revenue and the comforts of the people. That your petitioners sincerely lament the distress, said to exist in some of the West-India colonies; but, from the evidence laid before a Committee of your Honourable House, during the last Session of Parliament, they cannot but attribute a great portion of their distress to the general management of their affairs, and the embarrassment of the planters. That it is not the desire of your petitioners to withdraw from those colonies that protection which they may claim as a part of the British empire, but your petitioners humbly submit, that such protection ought not to exceed that afforded to the agricultural and manufacturing interest of the mother country, which have no bounty on the exportation of their products, neither a monopoly of the home trade; nor should so serious an injury be inflicted on other rising and important branches of foreign commerce, for the supposed benefit of any particular, and much less important interests. That the West-India colonies have, besides a monopoly of the home market, the choice of all the European and North-American markets for the sale of their productions, as also, for the purchase of their supplies, taking from this country those articles only which best suit their convenience. That the whole population, including slaves, of the British West-India colonies does not greatly exceed a million of souls; that the exportation of British manufactures for the use and consumption of those colonies amounts only to the annual value of from one million and a half to two millions sterling, whilst our exports to Brazil, as already stated, exceed three millions, and to Manilla, Java, Sincapore, and the Indian Archipelago, and other countries, affording similar productions to Brazil, about two millions, with a population and field for the consumption of our manufactures of incalculable extent. That the whole amount of the products of these rich countries, admissible for the use and consumption of this kingdom, does not exceed the annual value of one million sterling; the residue, of about four millions, being thus forced, by the highly restrictive laws of this country, into foreign channels, and to the employment and encouragement of foreign shipping and manufacture. That the French government having experienced the impolicy of this restrictive system, also long enforced in that country, have now laid before the Chambers a project of law, abolishing all bounties on the exportation of colonial sugar; and, with a view to the encouragement of the French refineries, and to render France the emporium of Europe for that article; it also proposes to admit for their use the growth of all foreign countries without distinction. That, if the restrictive laws of this kingdom are longer preserved, this object of the French government will be greatly aided by British capital. That it is the confident belief of your petitioners, that if the productions of Brazil and the Indian Archipelago were admitted to the use and consumption of this country, on terms affording reasonable protection to similar productions of the British colonies, additional employment would be given to from fifty to one hundred thousand tons of British shipping, and this kingdom become the emporium of Europe for those productions, as British capital is now the means by which they are sent to Europe; and that it would, also, afford incalculable scope for the extension of the industry, manufactures, commerce, and revenue of the kingdom. Your petitioners, therefore, most humbly and earnestly pray, that your honourable House will take this their petition into your early and serious consideration, with the view of affording them that relief and protection, which, in your wisdom, your honourable House shall see fit, and thereby add strength to the resources, extension to the commercial, manufacturing, and shipping interests, as well as additional means of happiness and comfort to the people of this great empire. He would only observe, that the petition was of great importance, but he must express his fear, that although the Government had no doubt given it their attention, they had not made up their minds upon it, as they had on some other subjects connected with the colonies. He would press the matter on their serious consideration; and conclude, by declaring, that the petition was signed by every person in Liverpool connected with the Brazilian trade.

Mr. Ewart

said this was a subject of the deepest interest to his constituents. It was one which involved the consideration of an extension of our foreign trade, and the employment of British capital. It was so fully proved in the petition that the amount of our foreign trade would be greatly extended if proper protection were afforded it, that he would not dwell at any length upon that subject. He was sorry that the extent of the experiments which had been conducted under the auspices of the Government had not been such as to liberate so important a branch of our foreign trade from the fetters which had hitherto bound it. The French government were already taking measures that would have the effect of greatly extending the trade in refined sugars, and he trusted that this country would not be behind them, but that his Majesty's Ministers, whom he knew to be inclined to liberal measures, would speedily remedy the evils of which the petitioners complained.

Mr. Strickland

had been requested to support the prayer of this petition, and he was anxious to say a few words upon it, as there were many persons who were ready to bring their capital into action, but who were restrained by the existing impolitic law. In his opinion, he could say nothing stronger than this—that while this country was sending out nearly three millions a-year, our ships were returning home empty, thereby giving a monopoly to the sugar growers of the colonies, without at the same time doing any benefit to this country. In his opinion, it would be easy to adopt some means by which Brazilian sugar might be imported into this country, to be refined for exportation; thereby giving employment to the capital and workmen of this country, without in the least trenching upon the rights which these monopolists at present enjoyed. He was not one of those who were always putting forward the system of free trade, but at the same time he would ask was the House to take freedom of commerce and the extension of the employment of capital as the rule in legislating, or was it to increase monopolies by restrictions?

Mr. Poulett Thomson

was anxious to say only a very few words upon the petition just presented. He begged to assure his noble friend and the hon. member for Liverpool that the subject to which the petition referred had received for a long time a serious and anxious consideration on the part of the Government, and it was not because the Government did not fully concur in the view taken by the petitioners, or that they were not anxious to give that relief for which they prayed, that he was obliged now to say that it was not in the power of the Government to introduce any measure affording that relief. Hon. Gentlemen who were in the last Parliament, and were present during the discussion upon the Bill which terminated so unfortunately, knew and acknowledged the great anxiety of the Government to admit foreign sugars into this country for the purpose of refining. On the rejection of that measure inquiries had been made of individuals capable of giving information, and experiments had been tried, which, though not yet complete, had made such progress as to convince the Government that a considerable bounty, but not amounting to 8s., as stated in the Petition, was given on West-India sugar on its export. The whole of the ground on which the last measure was rejected was the assumption that there was no such bounty, and that therefore no advantage should be given to foreign sugars. He thought it would be utterly impossible for this country (whatever it might do for its own colonies)—it was not right, that it should be called upon, to give a bounty upon foreign sugars, in order that foreigners might be enabled to use refined sugars at the expense of those colonies. That was the difficulty which prevented the Government from introducing a measure similar to that which had been rejected by the last Parliament, and after a full consideration of the subject, unless the bounty on West-India sugar was removed, he was satisfied it would be impossible to afford relief, except, indeed, by admitting foreign sugars, and refining it in bond for exportation. That principle he should be happy to see in operation, but, unfortunately, refiners were of opinion that such a plan would afford them no relief, and that they would reap no advantage from it, unless they were allowed to mix the sugars, which could not possibly be done. He could assure his noble friend, that if any plan could be suggested whereby the refining of foreign sugars might be confined to this country without hurting the revenue it would receive the utmost attention of Government. With regard to the importance of the Brazilian trade, and in all that was set forth in the petition he entirely concurred. He, however, did think, that hon. Gentlemen when quoting cases of a country sending all her produce here, and taking nothing from England, ought to bear in mind the reverse case, and think of the Brazils, which took so much of the manufactures of this country, and from which nothing was taken in return; and that when hon. Gentlemen were arguing on reciprocity, they should not forget, that reciprocity meant an advantage to both sides, and that without it the Brazils might turn the tables upon this country.

Mr. George Wood

had been requested to support the prayer of the petition, and he did so most cordially. He hoped, that as this question was very interesting to that part of the country which he represented, he should be allowed to say a few words. The subject was one of great importance to the whole empire, but particularly so to the county of Lancaster. He was sorry to hear from the right hon. Gentleman that there was no present intention of granting the relief prayed for. He trusted that the subject would continue to receive the best attention of his Majesty's Government, and that in a very short time they would be prepared with a measure such as would give satisfaction to all parties.

Mr. Mark Philips

said, his excuse for rising on the present occasion was the vast importance of the subject to the great scat of the cotton manufactures which he represented, and of the extreme degree of hardship which arose from ships being deprived of return-cargoes from the Brazils. He thought at a time when, during the last year, the poor-rates had increased in every county in England with the exception of three, it was the duty of the legislature to support every measure tending to increase the means of employment of the industrious labouring classes. Reverting to the importance of this subject to the sugar-refiners of this country, he must say, that he thought the noble Lord opposite (Lord Sandon) had much understated the effect which the existing law had produced. In London last year, there were no Jess than 216 establishments for refining sugar, and now they were reduced to sixty-seven; and as to the number of vessels employed in the Brazil trade, no less than fifty-one sailed from the port of Liverpool last year to Rio de Janeiro, not one of which could get a return cargo home. He thought a strong case was made out in the petition, for which he claimed the serious consideration of the House.

An Hon. Member

said, that it appeared to him that means should be given to facilitate the refining of foreign sugar in the country on fair and equitable terms, both for the sake of the shipping and commercial interests of the country. He did not say, that a bounty should be given; but he did say, that every unfair restriction should be removed. Means should be given of refining sugars in bond, and if that could not be done, some other course ought to be resorted to; otherwise the interchange between this and foreign countries would be put a stop to, and this country would be unable to preserve those advantages in trade it had hitherto possessed. He had the fullest confidence in the sentiments just uttered by the Vice-President of the Board of Trade, and he trusted that the right hon. Gentleman would feel this to be a subject admitting of no delay.

The Solicitor General

trusted, that hon. Members would not consider it presumptuous on his part, if he reminded the House of the understanding that existed with reference to presenting Petitions. He had attended there morning after morning to present petitions, which his constituents were anxious he should present, but he had not been able to present them in consequence of the discussions that took place on the presentation of almost every petition.

Mr. James Oswald

supported the petition, and stated, that he had been intrusted with a petition numerously and respectably signed to the same effect. He hoped that the existing law would speedily be altered, as he thought the parties interested were justly entitled to greater advantages than they now possessed.

Mr. Ewing

said, the subject was of the greatest importance to the Brazilian trade, and he hoped it would shortly be fully and fairly discussed.

Mr. Andrew Johnstone

said, he would not have risen, but that nothing had been said on the subject of slavery. If any measure was brought in for the introduction of slave-cultivated sugar, it would meet with the strenuous opposition of many hon. Members.

Petition laid on the Table.

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