HC Deb 19 June 1835 vol 28 cc960-74

On the Motion that the Order of the Day for the House to resolve itself into a Committee of Ways and Means being read,

Mr. Cutlar Fergusson

presented a Petition from the East-India Company for a reduction of the duties on sugar and other articles, the produce and manufacture of British possessions in India. The right hon. Gentleman supported the prayer of the petition. Our possessions in India stood upon a footing distinct from that of any colony at any time possessed by England. That immense empire had been acquired without the charge of a single shilling to the State. India had paid the expenses of those very armies which had been employed in its subjugation. The claims of India were well entitled to the favourable consideration of Parliament. She had been under the necessity of remitting to this country—for the purpose of paying political and other charges, for which she had no return—a sum amounting, annually, to 2,400,000l.; and by the Act which was lately passed, additional charges had been imposed upon her to the extent of 800,000l. a-year. This enormous sum was paid from the revenues of India, and all that India required was, that common justice should be done to her. Hitherto she had received nothing but the greatest injustice at our hands—injustice which we could not repair, unless we materially altered the whole system of our policy towards her, and, particularly, those fiscal regulations by which she was oppressed. It was extraordinary that India—the most distant of all our possessions, and which ought, on that account, to have had every allowance made in the way of duty—had been subjected to an increase of fifty per cent, on all her chief articles of produce, beyond that imposed on the produce of the West-India colonies. East-India sugar paid a duty of 32s. per cwt., and West-India sugar only 24s. Coffee, the produce of the East Indies, paid a duty of 9d. per lb., whilst, from the West Indies, it paid only 6d. Here was a case in which the House was called upon to interfere. India had not only to complain of the different scale of duties charged on her produce from that levied on produce of the West Indies, but she had, in addition, to complain that the cottons and muslins of England paid a duty of only two and a-half per cent, in India, while those of India were charged ten per cent. here. Upon the silks of India there was a duty of twenty per cent., whilst those of England paid only two and a-half per cent, in India. English hardware and woollen cloths were imported into India duty free. The gradual decrease of the importations of the manufactures of India into this country were extraordinary. In 1804, the importation from India into this country, of three articles, amounted to 2,072,612l.; in 1814, it was reduced to 1,266,608l.; in 1833, it amounted only to 316,000l.; and now it was altogether ceased. He would next show how much this country had gained, while India had been losing in the proportion he had just stated. In 1804, the value of our exportations of piece goods to that country was 31,943l.; in 1814, 109,480l.; and in the year 1833, it amounted to the sum of 1,528,880l. In the district of Dacca, 500,000 persons employed at the loom were reduced with their families, to misery and want, by the substitution of our manufactures for the manufacture of India. He had stated in substance the injuries which India had received by reason of the system pursued towards her. It was time that this injustice should cease. India asked fair treatment—she asked no favour—no preference—she claimed that which in justice and in right ought never to have been denied to her—to be put upon an equal footing with our other colonies.

Mr. Crawford

had a similar petition from a considerable body of the merchants of London to present, but he would make no observation alter the able statement of the right hon. Gentleman.

Petition to lie on the Table.

The House resolved itself into a Committee of Ways and Means.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that as his hon. Friend, the Member for Liverpool (Mr. Ewart) had given notice of a Motion upon the subject, to which the petitions just presented related, perhaps it would be as well that he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) should pave the way by moving a Resolution. On accepting office, it undoubtedly became one of his first duties to consider the very important Question which was then about to be brought before the Committee; and having collected, from several different sources, but, at the same time, sources in which he placed the utmost confidence, that the Question had been brought under the consideration of the late Government, he naturally felt desirous of ascertaining in what condition it had been left by them. When the present Government came into office, he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) found that a very general impression had gone abroad, that it was the intention of their predecessors to renew the sugar duties for the present year, according to the scale now existing. That being the case, he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) became anxious to ascertain whether it were the fact or not; because he felt that at all times, and more especially at a period when the value of colonial property was rapidly fluctuating, that if there were one duty more incumbent than another upon those who were called upon to discharge the offices of Government, it was not lightly to abandon any engagement, or to disappoint any expectation which might have been held out by those who had previously composed the Administration. If, in addition to all the other inevitable inconveniences consequent upon a change of Government, all the implied or expressed engagements made by the retiring Government were to be disregarded by that which succeeded it, the consequences to a commercial country like this could not be other than calamitous. Acting upon the indistinct information he had received, he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) had felt it his duty to ascertain positively what the views of the late Government had been, when he found that no definite engagement upon the subject had been entered into by them. He collected especially from the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tamworth, that he (the right hon. Baronet) felt himself perfectly free to deal with the subject as he should think fit if he had continued in office. But whilst he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) made that statement—whilst he felt it to be his duty to make it for the information of his hon. Friend, the Member for Liverpool, giving him any advantage he might derive from it; he also felt it to be his duty to state, that an impression had been conveyed to the West-India interest, which induced in them a perfect belief that the duties during the present year would not be disturbed. He had seen the Representatives of the West-India interest upon the subject, and had learned from them, that, in consequence of representations made to them in March last, they had communicated with their correspondents in the West Indies, and informed them that no alteration in the duties was likely to take place during the present year. He believed the same impression generally pervaded the great mercantile interests of the city of London. He knew that at the present moment the condition of the West-India planter was one which required the peculiar and sedulous attention of the Legislature; and he trusted from the spirit which seemed to prevail in all quarters, that no step would be inconsiderately or incautiously taken which would in any respect prejudice the interests of that class. With the knowledge of the facts to which he had referred, he felt that he had no duty to perform but one, and that was for the present year; and under the peculiar circumstances which existed, to propose to Parliament the continuance of the present duties. He felt, perfectly, the full weight of the observations which had been made relating to the necessity of doing justice to India, but if it was essential to do justice, he felt that it was equally necessary to do justice to this country; and so strongly was he impressed with the necessity of justice being done to both countries, that he had no hesitation in declaring, that any attempt to depend upon, or permanently to abide by the discriminating duties, was one which he would not undertake. On the contrary, although it did not refer particularly to this Resolution, but to the principle involved, he was willing and anxious to tell his right hon. Friend, and others who were interested in the question, that even in the course of the present Session, in a matter in which he did not feel himself restrained by the considerations to which he had adverted, he hoped to give an earnest of what he thought ought to be done. In the observations which had been made, one article had been more particularly adverted to—he meant coffee. With this article he felt that the House was perfectly free to deal according to its discretion, and in the course of the present Session it was his intention to propose an equalization of the duties on coffee. He was well aware that this was not the proper time to discuss that point, but he hoped he should be excused, if in referring to the sugar duties he not only made a declaration of his principles and opinions upon that subject, but did more by giving his right hon. Friend an assurance that he should find in the present Session, something done to warrant the fulfilment of that declaration. He should be sorry to be considered by the House, and particularly sorry to be considered by his right hon. Friend, in moving the renewal of the sugar duties for the present, as giving any kind of sanction to the permanent continuance of the discriminating duties. But in departing from that system, due regard must be had to the interests which had been created. He did not despair of the possibility, even in the course of the present Session—having secured the continuance of the duties for the present—of some consideration being given to the subject of the future duties. It was of importance that the subject should not be altogether passed over in silence, but that the West-India interest should have an opportunity of considering not only the duties for the present year, but also those which were to come. It was also of importance that the East-India interest, which he hoped would be an improving interest under the new Charter, should have an opportunity of considering the subject. Having thus stated, shortly, the grounds upon which he proposed the Resolution with which he was about to conclude, and having taken the opportunity of explaining the course which he meant to pursue hereafter, it was not his wish at that late hour, unless he should be compelled to do so, to go into the question further. He could not enter into the discussion of the principle with his hon. Friend, the Member for Liverpool, because he did not support the Resolution on principle, but upon the peculiar circumstances of the case, and on the correspondence which had taken place between the West-India interest and their agents in this country. The latter had communicated to those whom they represented that the sugar duties were not to be altered during the present year, and under these circumstances he did not feel it his duty to make any alteration. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving a Resolution that towards raising the supply to be granted to his Majesty the several duties upon sugar and molasses be continued for the present year.

Mr. Ewart

said, he had understood that if there had not been an absolute pledge given, at least there had been an understanding countenanced by the late Government, that the discriminating duties should be repealed this Session.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

begged to correct the error into which his hon. Friend had fallen. He (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) had already stated not only that no pledge had been given, but that the right hon. Baronet lately at the head of the Government, had distinctly assured him that he had given none, but he had taken the same opportunity of stating, that, from official information derived from the Government, although no pledge was given, the Colonial agents had been induced to communicate to their correspondents that no alteration would be made in the sugar duties.

Mr. Ewart

resumed. He said that justice to India required that these duties should be altered. We were bound by the India Bill to improve, as far as was in our power, the condition of that empire. But how could British capital get into India if we did not open our market for the produce of that country? When the West-India Bill was under discussion, his hon. Friend, the Member for the Tower Hamlets, and other hon. Members, de- clared that they only agreed to the compensation to the planters on the understanding that the existing monopoly was to be removed. The case of India was one of the most aggravated cases of injustice which had ever been brought under the notice of the House. How gross was the injustice of annihilating the manufactures of India, while we incumbered its raw produce with disproportionate duties. This was not an Indian question alone, but it was a question of great interest also to the British capitalist and commerce. He was happy to hear from his right hon. Friend that we were to have some alteration hereafter. He held that in the declaration which the House had received from his right hon. Friend, was contained an assurance of the principles upon which he acted, and the manner in which he intended to carry them into operation, and therefore he believed that he should consult the feelings of the House, and of those hon. Friends of his whose peculiar sources of knowledge on this subject, and the nature of whose constituencies, enabled them to judge of the best course to be pursued, by looking upon the principles of the Government and the statement of his right hon. Friend, as an earnest at least, if not a pledge, that something would be done at the earliest opportunity. He should therefore throw himself upon the House, and if his hon. Friends thought that he ought to rely upon the great probability of liberal measures being proposed, he should not press his Motion: but if if his friends wished him to take the sense of the House upon it, he would certainly do so.

Mr. Hume

advised his hon. Friend, after what had been stated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, not to press his Motion. For the last fifteen years he had heard, year after year, promises of justice being done to India, and he hoped they would now be speedily fulfilled. He believed those connected with India expected too much, and those connected with the West-Indies feared too much. We had by our policy been ruining the commerce of India, and he feared that unless a more liberal course were promptly adopted, we should be unable to maintain that empire and the necessary establishments there. He hoped the Session would not pass without the subject being fully brought under the consideration of the House that all parties might know what was to be done hereafter. He looked upon the statement which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had made of his intentions with regard to coffee as an earnest of what ought to be done in every other article. If the Government should not do justice to India, he should be happy to join his hon. Friend in forcing that tardy measure of justice which had been so long delayed. No colony belonging to any country had ever been treated by the mother country as India had always been treated by England, and he hoped the injustice would at length be put an end to.

Mr. Bagshaw

believed, that although no positive pledge was given as to the alteration of these duties when the twenty millions were voted, still it was understood that a simultaneous boon would be given to India. It was the duty of this country more especially at the time when there was a defalcation of the revenue of India, to give encouragement to the growth of sugar in that important colony.

Mr. Chapman

expressed his deep regret at the declaration of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that no alteration was to be made in the existing duties during the present Session. Nothing would tend to promote commerce with India or encourage the shipping interest more than an alteration of the sugar duties. Ships from India were now obliged to bring one-third of their cargoes in stones, while sugar was lying on the beach.

Lord Sandon

was inclined to agree with the hon. Member for Middlesex, who said that different parties, connected with each interest, hoped or feared too much from the equalization of these duties; for a very long time must elapse before the reduction of the duties on East-India produce could produce such a change in the general prosperity of the country as to be important in a commercial point of view. Whatever change might be made, it was most desirable that both the West and East-India proprietors should know, beforehand, what they would have to expect from the Government, and a gradual approximation to an equalization would be preferable to any more sudden adjustment. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would take the expediency of this principle into his consideration, in any plan he might propose.

Mr. Poulett Thomson

agreed also in the opinion that the advantages and disad- vantages anticipated, both on the one side and the other, from the equalization of the duties on sugar, were much exaggerated—but that did not diminish the desire he felt that full justice should be done to the East-India producers. At the same time he thought his right hon. Friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, had given an assurance sufficiently satisfactory when he expressed his concurrence in the principles laid down by the hon. Member for Liverpool, and his anxiety that those principles should be, as speedily as possible, carried into effect. He, too, afforded an earnest of the sincerity of his intentions in this respect, by the intimation of his resolution to propose to the House an immediate reduction of the duty on East-India coffee, He did not concur in the sorry expectations which had been suggested by the hon. Member for Sudbury with regard to the reduction of the coffee duties. He did not participate in his melancholy forebodings, knowing that the supply of coffee from the West Indies was at present below the demand, and that the East Indies were altogether excluded from a share in that lucrative trade, which, if opened, would now be peculiarly advantageous to those countries, from the increased demand for that commodity. As to West-India sugar, much of that was exported from hence to the third markets, where it was to compete with the Java, and Manilla sugars; so that the reduction of the sugar duties would not be of so much extensive service to the East Indies as many expected. There was already, an over supply of sugar for this country, the West-India sugars being unrestricted, and entering into competition in the third market. He trusted that in consequence of the means which the cultivation of sugar would afford for the employment of capital, East-India sugar, before long, would hold its proper place in the market and afford employment for our shipping: at the same time, he thought that the sanction and support now given by the Government and the House, to the principle of equalization, would have as good an effect in promoting the application of capital to the purpose of the cultivation of sugar, as it the difference between the duties themselves had been actually taken off this Session. He regretted to find, from the statement of the right hon. and learned Member for Kirkcudbright, that as to another article upon which protec- tion had been offered to the East-India produce, a serious decrease in the quantity exported had taken place. He alluded to cotton. He had hoped that, from the opening, many years ago, of the markets of this country to the East-Indies, the result would have been that we should have received a large supply; but he trusted in this article, as in that of sugar, the additional employment of capital under the new system—the new regulations which had been made as regarded the tenure of lands, and the settlement of Englishmen, in India, would have, hereafter, a very different effect on production; and that they would not long have to deplore a decrease in the place of increase, in the quantity produced. The hon. Member for Middlesex, seemed to suppose that the Government ought, in the course of the present Session, to bring forward a proposition for the equalization of the differential duties on East-India produce. Would the hon. Member explain in respect of what articles he supposed these differential duties to exist? When he first became connected with the Board of Trade, they were about sixteen articles of produce, in respect of which the differential duties were imposed. By the changes lately introduced twelve out of those sixteen were placed on a footing of equalization; and there now remained four, only, as to which the duties were different; sugar, coffee, tobacco, and spirits. As to tobacco, the hon. Member would recollect that this supply did not come from the British possessions.—[Mr. Hume: But it might.] It certainly might, but it would then have to compete with that of the foreigner, and we should have to give up so much of the duty. The reduction of the duty on spirits would not produce any material benefit. The only other article was that of coffee, and any observations on that were unnecessary, for the hon. Member for Middlesex had already expressed his approbation of the course which his right hon. Friend proposed to pursue respecting coffee.

Mr. Pease

said, that the introduction of a new system, after the alteration consequent upon the Emancipation Bill, would involve the trade in great confusion and uncertainty. Sugar was the only article the West-Indian could send to this country in return for our manufactures. Although he was not opposed to a gradual equalization of the duties, he had some doubt, whether the extensive changes proposed as long as the Slave-trade was carried on so vigorously at Cuba and the Brazils, would be so advantageous as was expected.

Mr. Elphinstone

hoped that the duties would be equalized. If that were the case the consumption of sugar would be increased. Since 1790, the consumption of tea had increased considerably, and the consumption of coffee had increased twenty-fold, and there was no reason, but the high duties, why the consumption of sugar had not increased equally to that of tea and coffee.

Mr. Warburton

said, that if it were true, as the noble Lord (Sandon) had stated that extravagant notions were entertained as to the advantages and the disadvantages that would accrue from the equalization of the sugar duties, he hoped the noble Lord would not insist upon what appeared to him unnecessary—viz: that whenever the attempt was made to approximate the produce of the West to the East Indies, in that respect they should only go on by such small and insensible degrees, as could neither be of sensible advantage to the one, nor sensible disadvantage to the other. But as it was acknowledged that the approximation must be made though gradually, why not take a step? If it would not affect either party in a serious degree, why not at once take a step? He thought it would be of great advantage to the East Indies, without being of great disadvantage to the West Indies, because whatever sugar was thus thrown into the market, as to the degree to which it would affect the sugar market, it would only be so far, and in that proportion, which the sugar thus introduced bore to the whole of the sugar brought into the European market: so that the only disadvantage to the West Indies, would be the extent to which such quantity of sugar thrown into the market, affected our market at home, as the price of sugar here was regulated by the price in the market of Europe. He knew not what better opportunity could be had for making the experiment than the present moment, when the competition between the East and West India proprietors would, in consequence of the Slave Emancipation Act, be one of free labour. He wished the Government clearly to explain their intentions on this subject. They seemed to think that to make an alteration of the duties all at once would be too great change, and that some notice of such measure ought previously to be given Now he wanted to know what notice would be given in the course of the pre sent Session? Was a Committee to b appointed to consider the propriety of equalizing the duties, or was some resolution to be passed by the House? He trusted that the equalization would not be gradual, but that it would be effected al at once.

Mr. George F. Young

thought the equalization of the duties ought to take place gradually, and he hoped that the present Session would not be allowed to close without some notice being given to al interested parties of the intention to alter the existing duties.

Mr. Patrick Stewart

felt convinced from what he knew of the feelings of tin West-Indian body, that no objection would be entertained on their part to the general support which had been expressed in favour of the principle of equalizing the sugar duties. The objection urged by them last year to the proposition was an objection in point of time; and the same objection existed to a certain degree at the present moment. It could not fairly be said that the labour in the West Indies was free. The negroes were in a state of apprenticeship; and during the term of their apprenticeship, the owners were compelled to provide them with clothes and other necessaries. A similar burthen was not endured by the East-India interest, and he, therefore, thought that the West-India proprietors ought to be allowed to emerge from the state in which they were placed by the Slave Emancipation Act before a total equalization of the sugar duties took place. He took it for granted that when the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer talked about reducing the duties on East-India sugar and coffee, he meant the reduction to apply only to sugar and coffee which were bona fide the produce of British India, and not to sugar and coffee which came from foreign territories in India. It was well known that half the sugar introduced into this country under the description of British India produce was in fact the produce of foreign territories in that empire.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

would be extremely sorry to have it inferred, as perhaps might be the case, in consequence of the observations, which had just fallen from the hon. Gentleman, that it was his (Mr. Rice's) impression that the present state of the sugar duties ought to remain unchanged until the expiration of the term of apprenticeship to which the negroes in the West-Indies were bound. Before that period it might become the duty of the House to alter those duties; but undoubtedly the burthen thrown on the West-Indian body by the Slave Emancipation Act would be one of the circumstances to be considered in the case. With respect to the reduction of the duty on East-Indian coffee, it was certainly his intention to confine it to such coffee as was the growth of British India.

Mr. Mark Philips

conceived that the value of West-India property had been increased rather than depreciated by the Slave Emancipation Act. He pressed on the Government the importance of taking into consideration the equalization of the sugar duties at the earliest possible period.

Mr. Buckingham

said, that though he had so recently addressed the House on the oppressions of our West-Indian fellow subjects, he could not refrain from offering a few observations on the grievances of our equally valuable East-Indian fellow subjects among whom he had passed so many years of his life, and whose interests he should always feel it his duty to advocate and defend. There was one short argument, he thought, by which the imperative necessity and absolute justice of reducing the duties on East-Indian produce might be incontrovertibly shown, and to this alone he would confine himself. The House would remember that two years ago, it had granted a new charter of Government to the East-India Company, by which entire freedom of trade was extended to all British subjects, whether English or native-born, by which colonization was to be permitted to all capitalists who chose to settle in India, and by which our shipping and manufacturing interests were all to be greatly benefited. Now, if the Government granted these privileges in a truly honest spirit, and with sincere and upright intentions,—it was indispensable that they should at once reduce the duties on East-India produce to a level at least with those on West-India produce; as without such reduction, free trade was a mockery—colonization a farce—and neither our shipping nor our manufacturing interests could be benefited in the slightest degree. To confirm the charter, therefore, and to prove their own integrity of intention, such reductions were imperatively demanded of them: and until made, the charter would not be complete. Some honourable gentlemen on both sides of the House had to his (Mr. Buckingham's) extreme surprise, asserted that the advantages of these reductions to the East-India Trade had been greatly exaggerated; but for his part, he was disposed to believe they had been greatly under stated. He would not detain the House by a lengthened argument upon the subject at this late hour of the night; but he would just enumerate, in a few sentences, some of the advantages which the equalization of the duty on sugar alone would produce. Its first operation would be to call into profitable cultivation large tracts of soil in India—by which profit to the capitalist, and profit to the cultivator and peasantry would be realised,—and by which also the revenues of India, derived chiefly from the land, would be largely augmented, while the people were benefited at the same time. It would furnish the merchants of India with that which they now wanted, an article of profitable return for their remittances to this country. It would then afford to ship owners, a valuable article of heavy freight, for want of which, ships bringing home light goods, were now often obliged to put in as heavy cargo, large stones, and other unprofitable ballast; and above all, it would increase the outlet for our manufactures; for those least acquainted with political economy must be aware that the amount of our exports to India are not limited by our power to send out goods, but by the quantity of profitable returns to be brought back from thence. We could double or treble our exports in a single year, if we could bring back profitable returns; and with a hundred millions of people an immense market might be found, if their produce were released from their present burthens, so as to enable them to be brought home and sold at a profit. He (Mr. Buckingham) had indeed been sometimes taunted with having been a false prophet, in predicting a larger increase in the trade of India than had already taken place. But he had always contended for a free trade between England and India, and no trade could deserve that name, which was still burthened as that of India is, by these excessive duties on its raw produce. Take off these, and it would be like releasing a giant from his fetters. After which, but not before, we should see the mighty energies of the two countries gradually developed, and all the advantages predicted gradually realised, One word more before he sat down. It was contended that whatever advantages the East Indies might gain by these reductions, the West Indies must lose. From this he entirely dissented. If the quantity of sugar to be consumed in the world had arrived at its maximum and could not be possibly increased, then, no doubt, the additional quantity of East-India sugar brought into the market, would leave a corresponding quantity of West-India sugar unsold. But was it not notorious that the reduction in price of any commodity of general use, increased its consumption? If so then considering the universal taste for sugar, and the certainty that the humbler classes especially would use much more of it, if it were made cheaper, and thus brought more within their reach, it appeared to him quite certain that a largely increased sale of cheap East-India sugar might take place by reason of such increased consumption, without at all trenching on the quantity still required from the West-Indies to supply the old and established markets. If his position were correct, the reduction of duties on the produce of the East Indies might then be set down as one of those very few commercial changes in which there would be a very large benefit to many classes, without any probable or perceptible injury to any; and, therefore, he conjured his Majesty's ministers not to delay this act of justice a moment longer than they could possibly avoid.

Mr. Goulburn

expressed his entire concurrence in the sentiments of the right hon. Gentleman, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and in the course the right hon. Gentleman proposed to adopt. He hoped that the Question would receive the fullest and calmest consideration, and that his Majesty's Government would not allow themselves to be led away by statements of particular individuals.

The Resolution was agreed to. House resumed.