HC Deb 04 September 1835 vol 30 cc1377-81
Mr. William Crawford

presented a Petition from the Agricultural Society of Calcutta, established to improve the agriculture of that country, having among its members the Chief Justice of Bengal, Dr. Willis, a celebrated botanist, and many eminent men. The prayer of the petition was for an equalisation of the duties on the produce of India with the rates charged on the same articles imported from the British Colonies in the West Indies, especially coffee and sugar. India had now become more essentially than ever an agricultural country; in fact, three fourths of the people were interested in the prosperity of agriculture. The great resources of the country to be developed required only the removal of restrictions. India required encouragement now more especially, since it possessed no other means of supplying the annual drain on its resources required by the late Act of Parliament to provide for the Government. It had not been his intention to present this petition at the present moment; he had intended to keep it till the commencement of the next Session, in the hope that before the House had met many days, they should have a discussion with reference to the equalisation of the sugar duties, if that equalisation were ever to take place. He was, however, induced to present the petition now in consequence of some circumstances that had taken place connected with a Bill before that House, under the title of the Customs' Duties' Bill. The object of that Bill was to reduce the duty upon coffee, the produce of the British possessions in the East Indies, to the rate of duty upon West-India coffee. The Bill had but one enacting Clause, and when it came out of Committee, it stood in this condition, that from the passing of that Bill, the duty upon coffee, should be reduced to 6d. the same as West-India Coffee. He had attended the progress of that Bill with considerable anxiety—he had watched it to the Committee for the purpose, if it were proposed to insert any Clause requiring a certificate of origin (or growth), some modification should take place. The Bill was reported, and stood for the third reading without any Clause to that effect being suggested. He was not a little surprised to find the third reading of the Bill was postponed, at the suggestion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Upon hearing of that postponement, he took an opportunity of seeing that right hon. Gentleman, and left him under the firm conviction that he would not proceed to adopt any certificate of origin without giving him an opportunity of being heard. He found to his astonishment, under these circumstances, that the Bill had been read a third time with an appended additional Clause, to the effect that there should be required a particular sort of certificate, which was not at present in use, and with which it was impossible to comply. It was proposed to allow coffee grown in Ceylon to be introduced for consumption at sixpence duty; while coffee coming from India would in fact be liable to a higher rate of duty than was proposed in the terms of the enactment of the Bill. As his attention was much directed to commercial subjects, the duty, as regarded London, might be said in a particular manner to devolve upon him to watch those interests, and he had taken every means to have an opportunity of speaking in his place before this change was made. He had been disappointed, from a course of events not under his control, having been followed with this Bill, which was not usual, and exceedingly inconvenient. He had been deprived of the opportunity at the proper time to make these observations and to press upon the House the necessity of modifying the certificate, so that it should be in the power of parties to produce one in compliance with the Act. He had heard it said there was no reason why East-India coffee should not be liable to the high duties. It was stated that it was in the possession of parties who had bought it expecting to pay the high duties; in answer to that he would only say, that it was within his own knowledge that all the coffee hitherto imported into this country grown under the Madras Government, came here as the property of the original planters. He thought the measure one of the highest injustice to the East-India growers, and in direct contravention of the Clause of the Act. He had made these observations in the hope that something would be done in the course of the next Session to relieve them from the injustice under which they laboured.

Mr. Labouchere

was sorry that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was not in his place, in order to explain what he must consider a misconception on the part of the hon. Member. He could assure him, and the House would admit, that it was not the wish, and never was the intention, of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to take the hon. Member or the House by surprise. He could only say with regard to the question the hon. Gentleman had mentioned that he knew it was the opinion and intention of his right hon. Friend, when the measure was first proposed for the consideration of the House, as due to the West-India colonies, to place the coffee of the East Indies under the same restrictions of certificate of growth. That certainly was his intention from the commencement. He would only state with regard to the petition that he perfectly coincided in the sentiments expressed. He was most desirous that the House should give every encouragement for the developement of the agriculture of the East Indies.

Mr. Ewart

said, that he should ever support any motion for placing the produce of the East and West Indies on an equal footing, and he would say, that it was disgraceful to that House to have these duties so long without equalisation. The importation of sugar from the West Indies was immense, while the total amount which was imported from the East Indies was about 77,000 cwt., although in the latter country it was the spontaneous produce of he soil, only wanting capital and skill to render it most productive. The quantity of coffee imported from the West Indies was 22 millions of lbs., while that from the East Indies was only one and a half millions. He had often urged the propriety of equalising the duties upon sugar and the articles of agricultural produce imported from those countries, and the facts he had stated were corroborative of the necessity of that measure. He had often called the attention of that House to the article of pepper, In the year 1825 the duty had been reduced from half-a-crown to one shilling per lb.,and the consumption immediately rose from 900,000lbs. to 1,500,0001bs. Now he contended that a duty of 1s. in the lb. was a most extravagant one, more especially when the favoured West-India article of pimento was admitted on payment of a duty of 5d. only. He hoped that the East Indies would not submit to this injustice, but would forward remonstrances till they succeeded.

Mr. Buckingham

wished to remind the House of the depressed state in which the commerce of India was at present, from the injustice with which she had been treated with respect to the articles imported from that country into England. There were not fewer than 800 millions of acres of surface in that country abundantly productive, and the people were industrious to an extraordinary degree; and yet, with all these advantages, the trade of the country was almost annihilated. India had been treated most unfairly by this country. They had given it a charter, and had professed to provide for it institutions similar to their own; and yet all the time they had been only practising delusion, for their promises were never realised. He trusted that the professions that had been made would end in something more than mere words. If not, he hoped the Government of India and the people of England would press the subject upon his Majesty's Government in a tone that would be irresistible.

Mr. Robinson

contended that there would be somewhat more of difficulty attending the equalisation of the duties than hon. Members were aware of. Whenever his Majesty's Government did so, he hoped along with equalising the duties on sugar, they would effect a considerable reduction in them.

Petitions to lie on the Table.