HC Deb 28 March 1836 vol 32 cc650-3
Mr. Crawford

said, he had to present a petition which he was sorry to say had been in his hands for the last month. He must also express his regret that none of the Ministers were present in their places who might naturally be supposed to feel an interest in the petition, especially the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the President of the Board of Trade. He regretted their absence the more, because, on presenting this petition, he was going to make a statement which more immediately referred to the departments of both these right hon. Gentlemen. The statement he was about to make materially concerned the commerce of the country. The parties whose names were signed to this petition were the proprietors and consignees of coffee to this country, being the growth of the island of Ceylon and of the territory subject to the Madras Government. They prayed for relief, and the prayer of their petition was founded on an Act which passed that House towards the close of last Session. The object of that Act was to relieve the grower of coffee in Ceylon, and the territory of Madras, from the additional duty previously charged on East-India coffee, and to place them, in respect of duty, on the same footing as the growers of coffee in the West-India colonies. They prayed that the East-India coffee now in bond in this country, or on its way here, might be entered at a duty of sixpence per pound. Last Session of Parliament the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced, that the duty on coffee, the produce of the East and West Indies, would be equalised, and for this purpose a short Bill was brought in by the President of the Board of Trade. The present petitioners were quite satisfied with that Bill, but there were other parties, who, it was bruited at the time, were not so well pleased—he meant the West-India interest. The Bill was reported, without any amendment, and in that shape was satisfactory to the petitioners. On the third reading, however, the Chancellor of the Exchequer introduced a clause which required the production of a certificate of origin, which could be had only in the East Indies, before the East-India coffee in bond in the country could be introduced at the diminished rate of duty. The effect of that clause was, to continue on all the coffee already imported the disadvantage under which the East-India growers laboured. Upon finding that this was the case the petitioners memorialized the Lords of the Treasury. The Lords of the Treasury referred this memorial to the proper revenue officers, for the purpose of being informed by them whether there would be any difficulty in distinguishing between coffee the growth of Ceylon and the Madras territory, and. coffee the produce of other places. The answer was, that there would be no difficulty whatever. In point of fact, too, the quantity which could be imported at this lime from the East, and particularly the quantity which was ready to bring into the market, was so small that it could not possibly affect the price of coffee, or injure the West-India interest. Still the Lords of the Treasury alleged want of power to grant the memorialists' prayer, and refused to act on the report of the officers of the Customs. This doctrine was new to him and to them, and the result ultimately was, that as this coffee could not be bought in if a higher duty than sixpence a pound was required, the whole of it was forced into exportation to compete with coffee the growth of other countries, to the injury of the consumer here, and also of the revenue. It was his impression, certainly that the Treasury, under such circumstances, always granted fiscal relief, but here it was refused. In fact, at the very time when the East-India merchants were refused any relief, and on the very same article relief was granted, and granted in opposition to the spirit of the Act of Parliament to the importers of coffee from Africa it was provided in the Act, that coffee, the growth of Sierra Leone, should be introduced at a duty of sixpence the pound. But that was strictly confined to the territory of Sierra Leone, and yet he found that coffee which had been grown 600 miles to the east of Sierra Leone, and was by the Act as much ex- eluded as Madras coffee, was introduced here upon the very same terms as if it had been grown at Leone itself. If there was want of legal authority in one case there was in the other, and if Ministers wanted indemnification in one case, it would be equally necessary in the other. The Lord William Bentinck had recently brought a cargo of coffee of 150 tons from Madras. It was produced by the enterprise of a set of gentlemen there, who certainly did not deserve to be treated as if they were foreigners. But though the origin of the coffee was undeniable, it was not accompanied by the proper certificates of growth, and it was obliged to be sold for exportation. In this single instance the revenue suffered a loss of 9,520l., and the consumers were injured by a short supply. A different course, a course more just to all the parties concerned, would have added to the revenue, benefited the consumer, and promoted the advantage of the British merchant and the grower of coffee in our East Indian possessions. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or the President of the Board of Trade were present, they could not contradict these statements.

Mr. Labouchere

did not think the hon. Gentleman could fairly impute blame to Ministers, as he had not given any notice of his intention to present this petition. Were his right hon. Friends present, he believed they would have no difficulty; whatever in giving a satisfactory answer to the statements of the hon. Gentleman, He recollected the discussion which took place last Session upon this subject. The Government then expressed their desire and readiness to equalise the duties on East and West India coffee, but they were bound at the same time to take care that it was a bona fide equalization. A certificate was required as to West India, and it was but just that the same security should be had with respect to Ceylon and Madras coffee. The smallness of the quantity did not alter the case. It was the duty of Government to see that there was no unfairness in the transaction, and that coffee from Singapore, or any other place, should not be brought in under the name of Ceylon or Madras coffee. Government, in acting as they did, had done no more than what they had distinctly announced to Parliament they would do.

Mr. Patrick Stewart

fully concurred in what fell from his hon. Friend who spoke last. The principle of the Bill of last Session was as he had represented it. The principle of equality of duty was that laid down by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and he was friendly to that principle. Duty, however, was not the only thing to be equalized. There were other burthens to which the West India growers were subject, that ought to be taken into the account. For his part, he was not a grower, but a consumer; but yet he thought Government could not, in justice, dispense with the test of bona fide production.

Petition to lie on the table.

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