HC Deb 28 February 1834 vol 21 cc943-56

The House having resolved itself into a Committee of Ways and Means,

Lord Althorp

said, that in rising to propose the continuance of the Sugar Duties agreeably to the notice he had given, it would not he necessary for him to trouble the Committee with any details. It was not his intention to suggest any alteration in those duties; taking into consideration the general pressure of taxation, he did not think that any reduction of them would be expedient, nor would it he wise to introduce any change in the proportions in which they were levied. The great measure of last year which was yet only in the in- fancy of its operation seemed to render it peculiarly improper to deprive the planters of the West Indies of any advantage they at present enjoyed. To do that might endanger the success of the experiment, which there was now every reason to hope would succeed to the utmost extent of the most sanguine expectations. He should merely move, therefore, the continuance of the Sugar Duties; but to do that he should propose that the renewal should not extend to the 5th of April, which would be four quarters, but to the 5th of July as formerly, which would be five. The change in this respect had been made at a time when it was thought the duties might perhaps he reduced, and they were, therefore, only taken for three-quarters of a year. The 5th of July was, on other accounts, the most convenient period, at which these duties should terminate. He would mention one. It was desirable to vote the estimate before the ways and means, and, acting on that principle, it might happen that the sugar duties, if taken only till next April, might lapse before the House could pass an Act to renew them. As he did not, however, anticipate that any objection would be made to his Motion, he should content himself with moving, "that towards raising; the supply, the several duties on sugar and molasses imposed by the Act 1 William 4th, and the bounties thereon, should be further continued.

Mr. Cutlar Fergusson

had hoped that after 20,000,000l. had been given to the West-Indian Proprietors last year, something should be done for the East India colonists this year. It seemed to him that no opportunity could have been more favourable for equalizing the duties on East and West-India sugar than the present, for the duties upon the sugars respectively produced in the East and West Indies were now most unjustly disproportioned. They ought to have been equalized some time ago. The East-Indians had as fair a claim upon the justice of Parliament, as the West-Indians, and had as good a right to expect that their interests should be consulted. He had expected that a petition would this day have been laid before the House from a great and influential body connected with the trade of the East Indies, but in truth their claim did not require to be enforced, since it was self-evident. He did not mean to divide the House, nor to make any specific proposition upon the subject, but he was certain that the planters of India would not be satisfied until they were put upon the same footing as the planters of the most favoured part of the King's dominions. It was very well to talk of reciprocity, but there was no reciprocity towards the merchants of India. Their cottons and woollens were taxed to four times the amount paid by the cottons and woollens in England when imported into India, and the result was, that thousands and tens of thousands of inhabitants of Hindostan had been thrown out of employ by the destruction of the trade. In one district half a million of people had been deprived of the means of subsistence. Parliament never considered what could be done for them, but what could be done for our own manufacturers. The East Indian Colonists had been much injured and aggrieved by the favouritism shown to the West Indian Colonists. While England had been enriched by the produce of India, the latter country had been impoverished by the narrow policy adopted towards it by England. He trusted, however, that the noble Lord would at least give the East Indians some assurance, that at some definite and not far distant time, what he might call the scandalous partiality shown to the West Indies would he put an end to.

Mr. Ewart

thought the policy adopted by Government towards the East Indies most unwise and unjust. That country had for many years groaned under the cruel oppression of the East-India Company; and if the present proposition were adopted, it would not have much less reason to complain of the system of legislation adopted towards it by the English Government. It was time, however, to redress the wrongs of that much-injured country, for it cried aloud for redress, and it would make its cries heard. It had been truly said by the hon. Member, that the manufactures of India had been superseded by the manufactures of Manchester. The East Indians had a particular right to complain of the gross favouritism which was apparent in the different amount of duties charged upon their exports and the West-Indian exports. While West Indian sugar was only charged with a duty of 24s. per cwt., East-Indian sugar was charged 32s. The duty on West-India coffee was but 6d. a pound, while 9d. was charged on East-India coffee. North American tobacco was charged only 2s. 9d. a pound duty, while the duty on East India tobacco was 3s. Pimento pepper was charged 1s. per pound, while Indian and all other peppers were charged 1s. 3d. He was sorry that the present proposition had been brought forward so suddenly as to prevent the possibility of having previously laid before the House the immense number of petitions which he was sure would have poured in against the proposition, had it been anticipated. He trusted, however, that the House would show itself as just to the East-Indian colonists as to the other colonists. A discriminating policy with reference to our colonies would not only be injurious to the colonists themselves, but to England.

Mr. Warburton

regretted the course taken by Ministers on this occasion, not only on account of the injustice done to the East Indians, but of the injury it would occasion to England itself. According to the report made by that distinguished chemist, Dr. Ure, there was no longer any doubt that the West Indians received a bonus of 5s. per cwt. on all sugar refined for exportation, which, taking the total of the sugar so refined, would be found to amount to several hundreds of thousands of pounds. This was one of the subjects which, whenever the House appointed a Committee to inquire into the general system of taxation, could not fail to come under consideration. He thought, however, the present an appropriate time for discussing the whole subject of the sugar duties, for the West Indians, who had hitherto been accustomed to urge their distresses as a reason why the advantage enjoyed by them should not be altered, had now not only received a bonus of so enormous a sum as 20,000,000l. but had obtained permission to refine their sugar, as well British as foreign, in bond. He would ask the right hon. Vice President of the Board of Trade whether any step, and what, was in contemplation by Government in consequence of the Report made by Dr. Ure.

Mr. Hutt

thought it a mistaken principle to attempt to govern a people by laws measured by the latitude and longitude in which they might live. The Colonists, whether East or West Indian, were subjects of the King just as the inhabitants of this country, and they were justly entitled to the same consideration with ourselves. If, however, Government persisted in neglecting so great a nation as the East Indian, they must not wonder at any ill effects which might result.

Mr. Poulett Thomson

said, that with reference to the experiments of Dr. Ure, he had stated, when the subject was under discussion last year, that the results should be laid before the House, which had since been done; and though the hon. member for Bridport had overstated the bonus paid on every cwt. so reputed, yet he (Mr. Poulett Thomson) thought that a bonus of 4s. might be named as the correct sum. The loss to the revenue (though owing to the decreased export, it did not amount to so much last year) he estimated at 700,000l. owing to the increased price. He had investigated the subject, and had endeavoured to devise a plan whereby to remedy these losses; nor did he despair of doing so. At present, however, he concurred with his noble friend in thinking, that it would not be advisable to make any alteration in these duties, till the result of the West-India Act of last Session was seen. The equalization of the duties was only a question of time; and when the difficulties which he mentioned were removed, the subject would be open to consideration.

Mr. Ruddell Todd

said, that equal justice ought to be done to the East Indians and to other Colonists. If, however, the noble Lord would say he intended, within a certain definite time, to do this justice to the East Indians, this would be some satisfaction to them who were at any rate entitled to hear some reasons for the present proceedings, and some defined hopes of speedy justice.

Lord Althorp

was well aware of what was due to the East Indians, and was inclined to give them that due, and all that they required was time to see the working of the Act passed last Session with reference to the West-Indian Colonists. He thought it would not be advisable to increase the pressure on the latter Colonies till the effects of that measure were seen. He repeated that the present proposition was merely for a temporary purpose, and he hoped the House would agree to it.

Sir Robert Peel

hoped, that the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Ewart) would persevere in his intention of submitting the present highly important subject to the grave consideration of the House, in order that they might clearly understand the situation of the parties interested in its adjustment. As far as he could comprehend its bearings, an act of greater injustice towards the natives of India could not be done than to continue upon their produce the unequal rate of duty at present levied. Although an attempt to establish discriminating duties between two countries might not by the one aggrieved be considered as an open declaration of war, yet it would not fail to make that country regard the attempt as a marked indication of hostility. The House might at all events depend upon it there was a growing intelligence in the natives of India that could not fail to make them feel most keenly the degree of favour shown to the West-India colonists in comparison with that extended to them. It ought, however, clearly to be understood whether the present rate of duty on East-India produce was to be considered permanent or not. He was disposed to agree with the noble Lord in thinking it might be inexpedient at the present moment to add to the difficulties of the West-India planter by proposing any change, but he at the same time thought that those whose capital was invested in East-India securities had a right to know whether the present unequal rate of duty on the produce of that country was to kept up.

Lord Althorp

had already stated that it was solely in consequence of the position of West-Indian affairs at the present moment he was withheld from proposing an alteration in reference to the proportions in which the sugar duties were levied; and he did not hesitate to say, that as soon as the success of the measure of last Session was established, it would be most unjust to allow the present unequal rate of duty on East-India, as compared with West-India, produce to continue.

Colonel Davies

said, that the West Indians would be very little benefited by anything that had been done, if the restrictions at present placed on their exports and imports were not taken off. The bonus of five per cent on refined sugar was not given to the planters, who derived no advantage from it, but to the refiner. As to the injury done to the Indians, it was well known that the government of the Company was equal and mild compared with that of the native chiefs.

Mr. Patrick Stewart

begged to remind the House that the East-India sugar-grower was enabled, owing to the low rate of labour in India, to send his produce into the market on far more advantageous terms than the West-India planter. He contended that there ought to be no further reduction of duties upon East-India sugars. He was ready to acknowledge that the West-India Colonies had met with very fair and just treatment from that House in the last Session, and he wished to see ultimately a fair competition between the Colonies; for he was willing to confess, that it was only in point of time and circum- stance that the West Indians could claim the renewal of what they had asked for. The mother country ought to know no distinctions between her colonies, except those which had arisen from circumstances for which she was herself responsible.

Mr. Cutlar Fergusson

hoped that Ministers would act impartially, and hold out fair hopes to the people of India. The recent regulations with respect to the settling of Europeans in India would have no beneficial effect unless they were accompanied by a more liberal policy with respect to the trade with those regions. The people of India would soon grow impatient of speaking to that House through the medium of humble petitions, and would feel that they were entitled to be heard in defence of their rights.

Mr. Wolryche Whitmore

would trespass on the House but briefly, as another occasion would be presented in the course of the Session in which the present subject could be more deliberately treated. He hoped that the time was not distant when Ministers would themselves bring forward the subject. Unless the produce of India were admitted into the home market, no advantages could be derived from the measures of last year. India opened an infinite field for the sale of the manufactures of this country, and he trusted that the policy of free trade would make these advantages available. The duties upon foreign sugars were now completely prohibitory, and the sugars of the West Indies and the East Indies alone came into our markets. Alterations of the duties must be made, for the West Indies would shortly be unable to afford a sufficient supply. The country would not have been satisfied to vote 20,000,000l. last Session in aid of the West Indians had it not been under the impression that the duties would be equalized. In point of fact the West Indians now derived an advantage from England of 1,500,000l. a year, 800,000l. being the interest of the 20,000,000l., and 700,000l. being received for bounties upon exportation.

Mr. Secretary Stanley

was happy to perceive that there was a uniformity of opinion amongst all the hon. Members who had addressed the House upon the subject before them. All seemed to agree as to the necessity of adjusting and assimilating the duties at no distant period. There were two points which urged themselves upon the consideration of the House. The first was, the impolicy, if not the inexpediency, of affording protection to any one colony in particular, to the disadvantage or injury of the others. And it would, in the next place, be highly improper and inexpedient, in the present state of things, consequent upon the alterations made in the condition of the slave population of the West Indies by the Act of the last Session, to make any further experiments until the working of that measure had been fairly tried. In compassing that measure Government had many difficulties to contend with. They had to bring public opinion over to a measure involving a certain loss, and they had to contend with strong prejudices, to provide against numerous, and in some instances, perhaps, unforeseen dangers, and to wrestle with difficulties that at first sight appeared all but insurmountable. But by the liberality of Parliament adopting a course as wise as it was prudent, the dangers and difficulties were overcome. The result had proved that the measure was wise and prudent, even though accompanied with an expense of twenty millions. The success of the experiment had fully justified it, and time had given assurance that there was no danger of those fearful insurrections—those tremendous convulsions, and dreadful disturbances which some had foreboded, and which even the most sanguine could scarcely assure themselves would not occur. The prospect of success from the measure was daily augmenting, the hopes growing more healthy, the fears diminishing, and it would, therefore at present, be highly impolitic to mar a measure which had so happily begun. Any alteration now would be exceedingly premature—it would be but the letting loose of fresh elements of discord where strife had but just subsided. His noble friend had fairly stated, that time was the ground of his objection. He would make the same remark. In his official capacity he disclaimed the intention of favouring any one particular colony to the exclusion of others; but in taking the subject of the equalization of the duties under their consideration, the House was bound to remember, that the West Indies were subject to restrictions from which the East were free. Before proceeding with the equalization, the West Indies had a claim on the Government to relax the restrictions which pressed upon them, and assuredly, previously to an attempt to equalise the duties, it would be imprudent and unadvised in the highest degree to endanger the success of the late attempt by a disturbing force. The House was further bound to give to the West Indian interests full, fair, and timely notice of the intention to equalize the duties, that preparations might be made accordingly. Certainly an intimation would be given by the discussion of that evening. The feeling which every gentleman had expressed upon the subject of freedom of trade, and, more significant than ail, the strong hint conveyed by the decided opinion expressed by the right hon. Baronet, the member for Tamworth, against any protection being afforded—would give sufficient notice to those parties in the West Indies who were concerned in this matter, that they must not expect a continuance of these duties in their favour. All he asked of the House was, not to be premature—not, at a moment of great difficulty and delicacy, to interpose additional obstacles to the settlement of the most important question ever discussed, but fairly to avow the principles upon which they desired to act. Let them not, like his hon. friend, the member for Lancaster, profess such notions as waiting till the price of labour bad equalized itself in the West and East Indies; but, giving the West-India trader the protection which he had a right to claim—giving to a new state of society the means of settling itself—giving to this country the means of judging of the effect of the recent measures, and the probability of future cultivation—giving time for the settlement of these countervailing forces, admit the principle upon which Government ought to proceed, so as to lean towards placing on an equal footing the rival productions of the two countries. He hoped the House would not only not show a continued desire to make alterations which it was inexpedient to make, but would not ask him to pledge himself (which it was impossible he should do) to a fixed or definite period when alterations should take place. Admit, he said, the broad principle—watch the course of events—see how soon in this, as in every thing else, you can bring your theories into practice, but do not bring them into practice unless you are satisfied there are no obstacles which would interpose between them and their proper working, He trusted that the House would pursue this prudent course—he trusted that, giving free scope to the feeling pervading the country, and reflected upon the House, they would not act with precipitation, but, nevertheless, pursue steadily and cautiously, a course which justice and expediency alike demanded from a nation so extensive, and with such extensive commercial transactions as those of this great empire.

Mr. Baring

said, as the sugar from the East and West Indies came into competition in the foreign market, it mattered little in that respect what duty was paid. He agreed with the suggestion not to interfere with the subject during the present year; what struck him as most difficult in equalising the duty between East and West India sugar was, that we were dealing with two articles of a different quality—one was in a state more advanced to refined sugar than the other. He entirely concurred in the principle that these two interests should ultimately be placed on exactly the same footing, and he trusted that ultimately the matter would be so arranged. Whilst he was on his legs, he wished to advert to a subject to which his attention had been directed by accounts in the public papers. It was true that we had proceeded triumphantly in putting a stop to the existence of slavery in our own colonies, but, if the accounts in the newspapers were true, and he had no reason to doubt their accuracy, the foreign slave-trade was at present going on to an extent which it was fearful for any friend of humanity to contemplate. He had seen in the course of last week descriptions in the public papers, as to the accuracy of which, perhaps, the right hon. Baronet, the First Lord of the Admiralty would be able officially to inform the House. It was stated that one vessel had been captured by our cruisers with 400 or 500 human beings on board, and another vessel of only seventy-five tons burthen, with 200 slave children on board. If this were the case (and the statement in the public papers was confirmed by private information), those two countries, Spain and Portugal, whom we had paid, and paid largely, to bring into a course of common feeling and common humanity, had shown a disposition to avoid the performance of their engagements, and were carrying on this traffic to an extent, and with a degree of horrible inhumanity, of which he was sure the people of this country were not aware. Having made a sacrifice of 20,000,000l. to put an end to this trade, and having paid other countries to follow our example, the Government were bound to state what information they had upon this subject, and what steps they might have taken to make other powers observe their engagements.

Sir James Graham

had the greatest pleasure in assuring the Committee, and his hon. friend in particular, that this subject of the suppression of the foreign slave trade had not been overlooked by his Majesty's Government, for they had felt, in common with him, that there was well-founded reason to apprehend that, amidst the great advantages to result from the measure taken by the House, in the course of last Session, it might also have an effect upon the foreign slave trade. They certainly had information that with respect to Cuba, particular attempts had been made to increase the traffic in slaves. The Admiral commanding in the West Indies had positive orders to surround, with the whole of his force, the island of Cuba, and to intercept in its return any vessel which had been sent for a cargo of slaves. More than that, his Majesty's Government had sent to the West Indies a steam-vessel of great power, as likely to be most effectual for the suppression of the trade. They had not only sent a steam-vessel, but they had also stationed steam-vessels on the coast of Africa. He was happy to inform the hon. Member that, in concert with the Brazilian government, effectual measures had been taken for the suppression of the slave trade throughout the whole of that country—effectual, inasmuch as one of the captures to which the hon. Member referred, had taken place by vessels so stationed. The hon. Gentleman would not forget the arrangement recently made between this Government and France, whereby a reciprocal right of search had been conceded, and already the effect of it had been the almost entire extinction of the slave-trade, as carried on by France along the coasts of Africa. He was persuaded that the effect would not be limited to the coasts of Africa, but that an effectual and reciprocal right of search would be established throughout the whole of the West-India Islands. The interests of the West Indians were involved in this question of slavery. He might add that, what had already been done by Government was but an assurance that they would still further increase their exertions.

Dr. Lushington

said, that the entire suppression of the slave-trade could never be effected by any effort, however strenuous, exercised on the part of the British Government, only because, in his judgment, the treaties entered into with foreign powers were still so defective and illusory that it was utterly impossible to effect a complete destruction of the trade, by simply adhering to the powers at present conferred by foreign governments. The great and serious defect, with respect to the slave-trade carried on by France was, that the treaty confined the right of search to certain parts of the coast of Africa, whereas, in truth and in fact, a considerable portion of the trade was carried on at a part of the coast to which the treaty did not apply at all. The treaty must be revised, and France called upon to co-operate with us in every part of the coast where the traffic was still carried on. He regretted that at the treaties with Spain and Portugal, in 1808, in which we had made such great sacrifices to rescue the Peninsula from French domination, means had not been taken to secure those conditions which we were entitled to demand relative to this trade. No language could exaggerate the atrocities of this traffic—no words could describe the degree of human suffering of which it was productive, or the state of degradation to which mankind was reduced when influenced by motives of lucre to commit such barbarities. Having made these observations, he should now say a few words upon the question under consideration. He had been called the enemy of the West-India interests. He now stood forward as their advocate. He apprehended that the question before the House admitted of little doubt. Unless extraordinary circumstances interfered, there could be no question that India had a right to have its products admitted into this country, at the same rate of duty as those of the West Indies. As a general proposition, it was impossible to doubt this; but he said that at this particular crisis—at the precise time and hour when not merely the commercial prosperity of the West Indies, but the very existence of those colonies, and the lives and happiness of their inhabitants depended upon the success of one of the greatest experiments that had ever been made in the transition from slavery to liberty—with all the difficulties intervening which had been portrayed with so much eloquence last year by those who doubted the expediency of the manumission of the slaves, at such a juncture to diminish in the slightest degree the motives of the West-India planters to carry that object into effect, or to reduce their hopes of its beneficial results, would be not merely an act injurious to them, but would be to make a trial, with respect to the future condition of the manumitted slaves, the most dangerous that any nation had ever adopted. How did the case stand at present? On our hopes of the industry of the liberated slaves, and of the prudent management of the planters in exciting that industry depended, not only the welfare of those colonies and their numerous inhabitants, but also the conduct of all other nations towards their slaves. To the chance, or rather, he hoped, the certain prospect of their witnessing the success of our extraordinary effort, and seeing the advantage of abolishing slavery and employing free labour, he looked for their being induced to follow the example which the British nation had so nobly set them, by redeeming from slavery not less than 2,000,000 of individuals. Therefore, until this crisis was passed, and until the time was arrived, which he hoped was not far distant, when the prosperity of the West Indies should be placed upon a secure basis, he, for one, would take from them not the slightest advantage, not one atom of the benefits which, right or wrong, they now enjoyed, in order to enable them to weather the storm, and finally to accomplish their own safety and regeneration.

Mr. Ewart Gladstone

implored the House not to take any hasty step, which might add to the dangers by which the colonies were already surrounded. Within the last few days he had received letters from one of those islands which had hitherto been most peaceful, stating that the negroes had risen and attacked, and beaten the whites and committed numerous acts of violence.

Mr. Lyall

said, that at this time, when we were entering upon a new system with regard to India, it was important that Parliament should turn its attention to the conditions upon which the manufactures of that great empire were to be received into this country, and our manufactures admitted in India. It was important that we should declare, and the declaration could not be made too soon—that our relations of commerce, and all our intercourse should be founded upon those principles of justice, without which it would be impossible to conduct the affairs of our eastern possessions satisfactorily or safely. Let it not he forgotten, that notwithstanding the advantages which we derived from our commerce with India, we received from that country a tribute of 3,000,000l. or 4,000,000l. annually, for which it derived in return nothing whatever, He trusted that when the question, of which the hon. member for Liverpool had given notice, should be brought forward, all these points would be taken under the consideration of the House, and that they would be dealt with in a spirit of justice and sound policy.

Mr. Cobbett

said, the hon. and learned member for the Tower Hamlets had made allusion to the United States of America. He (Mr. Cobbett) admitted it was good to set an example of humanity, but not to show such a degree of anxiety as almost to force other people to follow it. He did not like the allusion to the United States in the hon. and learned Member's speech. There were 2,000,000 of slaves in the United States who could not he emancipated—the thing was impossible. He was sorry that anything should be said in the House which would tend to make the people of the United States believe that what had been done was for the purpose of throwing them into confusion, and creating discontent amongst their slaves, and he regretted that anything should be said which could have that tendency. However, as we had set the United States the example of abolishing slavery, they seemed determined in return to abolish paper-money, and that would be an ample compensation.

The Resolution was agreed to, and the House resumed.

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