HC Deb 28 June 1839 vol 48 cc1021-9
The Chancellor of the Exchequer

moved the third reading of the Sugar Duties Bill.

Mr. Ewart

said, the bill had been postponed on a former occasion, when it had been in order, and, as he was not prepared then to enter upon its discussion, he hoped it might be further postponed to another day.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

had postponed the bill because the hon. Member (Mr. Ewart) and the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets were not in their places. He should have brought it on had they been present, and as they were now present, he thought he was entitled to bring it on. Mr. Ewart had only known that it was to be brought on about two hours.

On the question, "that the bill be read a third time,"

Mr. Ewart

said it was a subject full of statistics, and he was not prepared to go into the question. The object of the motion of which he had given notice, and which he was sorry at that time to bring before the House, was, in the first place, to show to the House the high price to which sugar would probably arrive at in this country; and, in the second place, to call their attention to the great advantages which might result to this country if they would so far modify the laws which protected colonial sugar as to admit the sugar which was the produce of free labour, as distinguished from sugar which was the produce of slavery. The House might probably be aware that petitions had been presented to that House from the large commercial communities of Liverpool, Glasgow, and other places, in favour of that reduction. Our exports to the Brazils were of very large amount, and our imports thence were very limited. The objection of the friends of humanity to the admission of the sugar of the Brazils was, that it was the produce of slave labour. He confessed he was so far of their opinion. He wished to reduce the duties on sugar, cocoa, coffee, and other articles of tropical production in those countries where they were produced by free labour in contradistinction to slave-labour production. He would draw attention to the enormous price which the people of this country were obliged to pay for sugar in the shape of sugar duties and protection of colonial sugar. He dared to say, that many hon. Gentlemen in that House were aware that the difference of price between colonial sugar and foreign sugar was full 18s. per cwt. By the last returns, the average price of British plantation sugar was, 41s. 2¼d. exclusive of the duty of 24s., while good Manilla sugar was selling at 23s. 6d. per cwt. a difference of no less than 76 per cent. He thought that the people of this country ought not to be called upon to pay the large sum which they did in the protective tax on sugar, considering the large amount of 20,000,000l. which they had paid, and he thought properly paid, four years ago, in compensation to the planters. It had struck him as not being disadvantageous to institute a comparison between the consumption of sugar in these countries and the consumption of those articles with which sugar was generally used, such as tea, coffee, and cocoa; and the result of his inquiries was to show, that while the consumption of those articles had considerably increased, that of sugar, instead of proportionally increasing, had absolutely retrograded. The consumption of cocoa had increased very considerably, that of tea appeared to be much less on the increase. From authentic documents to which he had had access, it appeared that, in 1801, the consumption of tea was 1lb. 80z. for each individual in the country. In the present year, it did not amount to more than 1lb. 50z. for each individual. In 1801, there was not more than loz., upon the average, of coffee consumed by each individual. In 1811, the average was 80z.; in 1821, about the same; while, in 1831, it had arisen to about lib. 50z.; and, in 1838, it was 1lb. 60z. He would now turn to sugar, which presented a much less favourable appearance. Each individual consumed, in 1801, about 301b; in 1811, about the same; and, in consequence of the increase of the duty, the average amount consumed by each individual had decreased to 191b. These results appeared still more remarkable in the case of Ireland. The saying of Mr. Huskisson, in 1829, was still strictly true—that above one-third of the inhabitants of this country could not have sugar with their coffee. The sugar refiners had long been aware of the very inadequate demand for their goods. It was true, that they had derived some advantage from the introduction of East India sugar; it was, however, but limited in its extent. The Drawback Bill of last year was a good bill as far as it went, and the equalization of the duties payable on East and West India sugar was also beneficial in its operation. He desired, however, to see the same advantage extended through all those portions of the East Indies, which, though not nominally British possessions, were such in reality. He was anxious that the sugar trade should be open to every country be sides where sugar was the produce of free labour. He was anxious to see the gates of commerce thrown wide open, and invidious distinctions put an end to. Thirty years ago the cultivation of sugar was unknown in Siam. In 1821 the produce was only one-tenth of what it was now. Siam was capable of producing sugar to the extent of 15,000 tons annually, and all the produce of free labour. The export of sugar from Java had, of late years, very considerably increased, and he was not making the calculation too low, when he stated, that that island would be capable of supplying sugar to the extent of 20,000 tons per annum, all the produce of free Javanese or Chinese labour. China could export 6,000 tons, and Cochin China 1,000 tons. The total amount of sugar, the produce of free labour, which this country could command, would be very considerable. He looked forward to the day when sugar would also be imported from the coast of Africa, and when free labour might be universally substituted for the odious bonds of slavery. He believed that that infamous traffic was not to be put down by armed vessels, but by commerce. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving, "that sugar, the produce of free labour, be imported into this country upon payment of the same rate of duty which is charged upon sugar the produce of the British colonies."

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

was aware, that his hon. Friend, the Member for Wigan, had taken this opportunity of introducing the subject of his motion in the discharge of a public duty, rather than for the purpose of interrupting an annual bill; which must needs be passed, and though he should answer his hon. Friend but shortly, it was not from any intention of offering the smallest disrespect to him. The suggestions which his hon. Friend had made were by no means to be considered so trivial as to be undeserving of remark. The subject, however, involved many more considerations than those to which his hon. Friend had referred. To moot it was to open the whole question of our colonial policy; and it was not just to argue as his hon. Friend had done with respect to sugar, without considering as well the whole obligations which we were under to our colonies as the obligations which those colonies were under with respect to us. For one, he was not prepared to say, that the possession of our colonies was so much a matter of indifference, that we did prudently to take any one branch of our colonial commerce and discuss it, as his hon. Friend had done, in reference only to the question of supply and demand. However, he was glad to hear that the steps which had been taken by Government for the extension of trade, and the facilitating supply had met with approbation. His hon. Friend had said, that the people of this country looked back with repentance on the grant of 20,000,000l. sterling to the West Indian proprietors. He did not think it was so. But he believed the people of this country would be very ready to look back with repentance on that step, if they thought that the planters failed in the duties arising out of their part of the contract. At present, however, he did not believe, that the people of England repented of having earned that distinguishing mark which separated them, as regarded humanity, from the nations of the earth. Nor did he think that the course recommended by his hon. Friend would, if adopted, fulfil his hon. Friend's expectations, in inducing foreign countries to follow our example in putting an end to slavery in their dominions. He would make no more than this single remark, that whenever the supply from our colonies should fall below the demand of the country, it would be incumbent upon the Government to consider the whole subject.

Mr. Clay

said, the whole of the sugar refiners in the metropolis were interested in this question. The sugar refiners of England possessed advantages over those of the Continent because they could not only export their own manufactures but they could even taken away from the home consumer for that purpose. He agreed in the policy of removing the premiums on the exportation of refined sugar, and approved of the measure that was introduced on the subject last year; but he believed, that the result was, that only about one half of the bounty had been taken off, and that there was still a concealed bounty equivalent to a premium of six shillings a hundred weight. The fact was that the quantity of sugar produced in our colonies did not afford a sufficient supply for home consumption, and the people of England were at present paying a monopoly price for that article. Thus the contingency had arisen in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer said, that the whole question must receive the attention of the House and the Government, and when it would be necessary to come to some determination. He could not help remarking, on the subject of the produce of slave countries, that it was a most extraordinary thing that, without one word of remonstrance from the opponents of slave-grown produce, they took upwards of 400,000,0001bs. of slave grown cotton every year, as well as an enormous amount of slave-grown tobacco, while the utmost outcry was raised against their receiving either sugar or coffee from slave countries. He contended that they were bound to give the advantage to the people of England of using such sugar and coffee as they could get at less than a monopoly price. He supported the motion of his hon. Friend, because he thought that it was clear that the supply of colonial sugar and coffee was not sufficient for the consumption of this country; and secondly, because the colonies should not enjoy a monopoly in the home market against free grown sugar.

Mr. Poulett Thomson

considered the subject as one of very great importance, and deserving the most serious attention. Before, however, he went into the general qustion, he must observe that his hon. Friend who spoke last was misinformed, in stating that there was at present a bounty on refined sugar, equivalent to six shillings per hundred weight. The return on which he had proceeded when he introduced his bill on the subject, was taken in such a manner as to ensure the most exact amount, and care had been taken to prevent anything being given in the shape of bounty. This calculation was also made before there was anything like a short supply of sugar in the market, and they had also taken the prices of sugar in foreign markets, as well as the price of East India sugar, so that the utmost care was taken to prevent a drawback being given in the shape of a bounty. There was an advantage, however, which the West Indians enjoyed from having their sugar refined in this country, which could hardly be designated a bounty, namely, that they obtained a higher price for the treacle which was obtained from the sugar in un- dergoing the process of refining than they could get in a foreign country. This was the advantage that they got from having their sugar refined here rather than elsewhere; but there was no bounty paid. Considerable delusion prevailed in this country on the subject of slave-grown produce, as contradistinguished from free-grown produce. He trusted that the country would not adopt the notion that they could separate in their, commerce with foreign nations free-grown produce from slave-produce. He protested against the comparison which had been made by his hon. Friend respecting the slave-grown cotton from the United States. It was utterly delusive to talk of the consumption of that article in this country, as if it could get sufficient cotton, the produce of free labour, from other places. His hon. Friend said, "how strange it is that you listen to the outcry against taking slave-grown sugar, while you take slave-grown cotton to the amount of millions annually, and slave-grown tobacco, from which you get 3,000,000l sterling a year in the shape of duties." For his own part he most cordially wished that slavery everywhere was at an end. But what was the system of policy which this country had been going upon in her commercial treaties with almost all foreign countries for a great number of years past? We had entered into treaties putting these countries on the footing of the most favoured nations, on certain equivalent advantages being given to our commerce. Supposing they adopted the proposition of the hon. Member for Wigan, what would the United States do? They would come forward with the treaty in their hands, and would say that the produce of that country must be put upon exactly the same footing as the sugar and coffee produce in Siam, Java, or Hayti, or they would say that you did not put them on the footing of the most favoured nations, and therefore you violated your engagements with them. The Brazils, also, would hold up your treaty in your face, and would say "that our produce is our produce, and you have no right to inquire whether it is the result of the labour of one man or of another man; but take it you must, or be guilty of a breach of faith according to your treaty." This country has entered into several of these treaties with foreign nations, and Acts of Parliament have been passed concerning them, and placing the produce of those nations upon the footing he had described; and they would one and all say that by taking such a step as that involved in the proposition of his hon. Friend you not only broke faith with them, but you also interfered with the domestic relations of their country. With reference to the importance of the question, as a general question, he did not for a moment deny it. He admitted that it was a matter of very great importance, and was one which would be forced upon the attention of Parliament and of the country within a very short period. In the first place, this was a matter which would force itself upon the attention of the Government as connected with the treaty with the Brazils. The present treaty was only of a temporary character, and would expire in 1842, and if we entered into fresh relations with that important State, this subject must necessarily be considered. The exports to that country were upwards of 4,000,000l. a-year of British manufactures. This was the most important trade that we earned on with any part of the world, with the exception of the United States of America. The produce of the Brazils were almost entirely confined to sugar and coffee, and when we came to the period when the treaty was about to expire, this subject must force itself upon the attention of the House. The other branch of the subject would also receive a matter of deep importance and consideration, namely, the short supply of colonial sugar. Up to last year, the produce of our West-India colonies was considerably more than sufficient for the supply of this country. Practically, therefore, the West-India colonists enjoyed no monopoly, though apparently and nominally they did so Since that period, there had been a considerable falling off in the produce of our colonies. Again—the growing population of this country required a larger supply of colonial produce, and there was this deficient supply of the West-Indies to meet this demand; and within a short time it would be necessary to pay an extraordinary price, when what was formerly an apparent monopoly, would be felt as a real monopoly. But at the present moment, this was the case with respect to coffee. The duty on coffee had been reduced nine years ago by Mr. Huskisson, and at a more recent period by himself. Coffee was most extensively consumed in this country; and notwithstanding the lowness of the duty a much higher price was paid for it here than on the continent. The produce consumed here was almost entirely colonial, and, therefore, with the high price, it was obvious that a real monopoly existed. The Government was deeply impressed with this important subject, and it was obvious that great attention must be paid to this point, as well as to the other subjects to which he had adverted. It was important that they should look at this question—that they should regard the different interests that would be involved, by blinking the consideration of it even for a time; but he was satisfied that it must be forced on the attention of the Government and the Legislature, if not by the wants of the people of this country, at any rate by the treaty with the Brazils; and he trusted that it would be met fairly, and the difficulty dealt with in the way that a matter of such importance deserved, when it was ripe for consideration.

Mr. Hume

had heard, with great satisfaction, the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, and trusted that the matter would not be unnecessarily postponed. At the present time there were only two-thirds of the average supply of colonial produce from the West Indies, and the people of England were called upon to pay the same amount as if they had a full supply. Therefore it would be most absurd to put off the consideration of the question till 1842. He admitted that he could not draw that distinction which had been made by his hon. Friend, the Member for Wigan, between slave produce and free produce, and he thought it would be inexpedient to make such a distinction in our commercial relations. It was obvious, however, that the subject must be taken up next year by her Majesty's Government. It was clear, therefore, that his hon. Friend would not gain anything by going to a division. For that reason, he trusted he would not press his motion.

Mr. Hodgson Hinde

was fully aware of the importance of the subject, and was glad it had been brought under the attention of the House. But he was sure, that neither his constituents, nor the country at large, would be satisfied with drawing a distinction between sugar and cotton, the produce of slave countries or not.

Mr. Thorndy

trusted that the subject would not be pressed upon the present occasion, for he was satisfied, after this discussion, that the whole question must come under the consideration of Parliament in a better form next year. With the existing treaties with foreign countries, and with the Acts of Parliament, confirming those treaties; any Brazilian importer of sugar could go to the customs, and compel the officers to take the same duty on that produce as on sugar, the production of free labour, supposing this proposition of his hon. Friend to be adopted. In Java and Hayti, the price of the best coffee, at the present moment, was from Ad. to 5d. a pound—the duty on it was 6d. a a pound. It was sold in this country at from 2s. to 3s. a pound, or even upwards. It was obvious, therefore, that the price was so high in consequence of the monopoly given to the West-Indies. The taxes of this country were of a very great amount, and very burthensome; but they did not add so much to the increased price of articles of consumption, as the keeping up of these monopolies. The proposition his hon. Friend had made, was only a half measure, as he was satisfied that the distinction between free and slave produce, could not be kept up for any length of time. His right hon. Friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said, that he did not look for any speedy termination of slavery in the United States. He confessed that he did, and he believed that there was a very large and powerful party in that country, who were most zealous and anxious to carry it into effect, and a most distinguished writer in that country, whom he was proud and happy to call his friend, namely, Dr. Channing, had lent his powerful assistance to the furtherance of this object.

Mr. M. Philips

thought that it was the duty of the House to take all the steps in its power to lower the price of cotton and sugar in this country, which were necessaries of life. A most valuable trade was going on with the Brazils, and he trusted that every step would be taken to afford every encouragement to it.

Mr. Ewart

would not press his motion.

Bill read a third time and passed.