HC Deb 28 May 1840 vol 54 cc682-7
Mr. Colquhoun

rose to call the attention of the Secretary for Foreign Affairs to the state of the question as to the replacement of the trade with Java on a proper footing, and for the better understanding of which he would, in conclusion, move, that all the papers connected therewith should be laid before the House. Previous to 1824, the Dutch government had been in the habit of laying on heavy ad valorem duties on all British goods imported into Java; but in the treaty framed in that year, by Mr. Canning, it was arranged that whatever British goods were imported they should only be charged double the duty laid upon similar Dutch goods; and that where Dutch goods were admitted duty free, British goods were only to be charged six per cent. Further it was agreed, that goods imported into Java were not to be charged according to their origin, but according to the vessels that brought them; so that if British goods were imported in Dutch bottoms, they were only to pay the Dutch rate of duty. Complaints were made by British merchants to Mr. Canning, in 1824 and 1825, that this treaty had been violated by the Dutch authorities in Java, and Mr. Canning (without referring the case to anybody) declared at once that it had been violated, and that redress should be obtained. After the death of Mr. Canning, the succeeding Administration had too short a tenure of office to carry his good intentions into effect. In 1832, the East-India Association of London made very strong remonstrances on the subject to the noble Lord at the head of Foreign Affairs, at a time the most favourable to the amicable settlement of the matter, when Holland had lost her Belgian territory, and was no longer particularly interested in preserving a market for the manufactures of that country in Java, and, therefore, not likely to raise any objection lo the just fulfilment of the treaty. The noble Lord had replied to these remonstrances that he had at the moment matters under his consideration of greater importance to Holland, and that this point should not escape him in the settlement he had undertaken. However, nothing whatever was done during the next four years by the noble Lord. In 1836 the East India Association again appealed to the noble Lord. They stated that the treaty had been violated by the Dutch unchecked for twelve years, and urged its speedy vindication. His Lordship replied, that there was a difficult point of law in the case, on which he must in the first place take the opinion of the Crown counsel, and to their consideration it was accordingly referred. On the 8th of June, 1836, the East India Association applied to his Lordship to learn what that opinion was, and on the 9th of June his Lordship promptly informed them that it was unfavourable to their views and their claims for redress. The East India Association then applied to Parliament, through Mr. Stewart, Member for Lancaster, who, in August, 1836, laid the case of the British merchants before that House, and moved an address to his Majesty on the subject, on which case the noble Secretary for Foreign Affairs declared that it could not be denied, that the Dutch Government had violated the treaty of 1824—that her Majesty's Government had made serious representations on the subject, and would continue to press the Dutch Government until it had settled the affair in a just and satisfactory manner. It would, however, be very inconvenient for the House to interfere in the matter, and only serve to embarrass the exertions of the Ministry, but if the Dutch authorities would not attend to their representations, then they would be prepared to come to the House and ask their aid in furtherance of more effective measures. However, nothing was effected by the noble Lord despite all his promises. But, in September, 1837, the Dutch rectified their tariff, and so far confessed their error, on which the East India Association asked the noble Lord if there were to be any restitution of the duties levied on them in excess? They were answered that the noble Lord would attend to that along with the entire question of the trade of Holland and Belgium, which was then under consideration. The East India Association having waited for some time after ths declaration, applied again to his Lordship and were officially informed, that his Lordship had no further information to give. On the 14th of February, 1838, the East Indian Association again applied to the noble Secretary, and threatened, if still neglected, to bring the whole subject before Parliament. His Lordship then stated, for the first time, that there was a counter-claim on the part of the Dutch; that the East India Company had, by its regulations established in the Bengal custom-house, also violated the treaty of 1824; and that it would be impossible to get restitution for the English merchants unless the East India Company repaid the Dutch merchants. That act of the East India Company, was, however, nothing new. They had changed their tariff in 1834, and the noble Lord gave them no notice of any objection taken to it till 1838. Would the noble Lord maintain the propriety of thus satisfying the claims of British merchants, who hail lost 600,000l. by a set-off of from 20,000l. to 40,000l. owing by the East India Company to Dutch merchants? The importance of the trade to Java was very considerable, but under the management of the noble I Lord the British interests had suffered exceedingly. The amount of cottons alone imported into Java in 1834, was 115,000l. We had then seven-eights of the whole trade, while in 1838 we only possessed about one third of it, although it had increased to 796,000l. Out of 160,000 tons of shipping employed, only 30,000 were British. But the treaty had been violated: in other things as well as in the point paralleled by the Bengal customs regulations, and would the noble Lord take no notice of them? Thus where the duty on coffee was two florins to the Dutch, the English were charged five. Again, woollens, hardware, and other articles which formerly were allowed to enter Java duty free, were now charged twenty-five per cent. Me had been assured by the head of a respectable house in Glasgow, that, in consequence, he must give up the trade altogether. But there were further cases of injustice to be complained of. It had been agreed between the English and; Dutch that neither should in any treaty; with the native princes in Sumatra and the eastern archipelago stipulate for the imposition of any rate of duty by which the goods of the other should be excluded. Let the House look at the effect of these proceedings in the island of Sumatra, which was of importance not only from its size and the extent of its population, but from; its trade in pepper, coffee, and other productions. Now, the Dutch in the Island: of Sumatra had advanced from one point to another, and had made a treaty with one of the Rajahs, in consequence of which he had prohibited certain British manufactures. Similar conduct had been pursued with regard to other Rajahs, and the Dutch authorities had threatened one on the north-east of Sumatra, with whom the principal pepper trade was carried on; in consequence of which the Rajah said, that unless some steps were taken by the British Government he must fall under the coercion system of the Dutch. The effect of these proceedings on the British trade had been, that whereas in 1829 our exports were about four millions and a half, they were in 1838 only about three millions and a half. Thus they had lost large portions of a trade with Sumatra, and thus was the trade restricted throughout the eastern archipelago. He knew not what hopes the noble Lord might hold out to British merchants on this subject, but he trusted that those hopes might be more completely realised than those which the noble Lord had held out in 1836 and repeated in 1838, but which now appeared to be as far from their accomplishment as when they were made. The hon. Member concluded by moving, That an humble address be presented to her Majesty, praying that she will be graciously pleased to direct that there be laid before tins House copies of all communications from British merchants, addressed to the Board of Control, or the Foreign Office, on the subject of the British trade with Java, with the answers to them, from the year 1832 to the year 1839 inclusive. Copies of any communications on the same subject from the Foreign Office to the Board of Control, and from the Board of Control to the directors of the East India Company, with the answers during the same period. Copies of any communications from British merchants, or from the authorities in Singapore, or elsewhere, addressed to the Foreign Office, on the subject of any interference with British or native trade to the island of Sumatra, or throughout the Eastern Archipelago.

Viscount Palmerston

said, that he would first state, that he did not intend to oppose this motion. He did not think it necessary to suggest, that the motion should be framed for copies or "extracts," because the communications required were those which had taken place between the Government and British merchants, and not between the Government and their own agents. However, he should wish it to be understood, that if amongst the papers required, any communications of the latter sort should be found, extracts of the important parts only should be given. As he made no opposition to the motion, it was not necessary for him to follow the hon. Gentleman opposite through his long detail, in some parts of which he did not appear completely to understand what had occurred upon the subject. As a general remark, however, he would call the attention of the House to the course pursued on those subjects by Gentlemen of the political party to which the hon. Member belonged. At one time they raised a loud outcry against the apathy and indolence of the Government in not enforcing by arms the claims put into their hands for redress on account of wrongs which were stated to have been inflicted by the Government of different countries, and yet, when at last the Government, having exhausted all the exercise of remonstrance and expostulation, felt it their duty to take strong measures, those very persons were the most vehement and determined in censuring them for such conduct. They were ready to condemn them for acting out of the very same mouths with which a short time before they had condemned them for not acting at all. The hon. Gentleman had not kept sufficiently distinct the two grounds on which objections were made to the conduct of the Dutch. The first was, that they had not adhered to the treaty of 1824, by which duties to be paid by the subjects and ships of the two nations should be in regard to the ships and subjects of the foreign nation double that to be paid by the subjects of the nation to which the ship belonged. The Dutch had not observed those proper proportions, but after considerable discussion, an amended tariff was adopted as to the island of Java. The hon. Gentleman said what he believed was true, that that change had not turned out to the advantage of the merchants, and that, in some instances, it had increased the duties on our commodities; but it was to be remembered at the same time, that the duties were also increased on commodities from Holland. They could not, therefore, complain if they were not borne out in the construction of the treaty upon the second point. Now, the British Government had construed that treaty as requiring, that the duties should depend on the origin of the goods, and not the nationality of the ship. That certainly was a matter of construction, and not by any means so clear as the other part of the treaty which fixed the double duties. Still he had thought, and he had been borne out in that opinion by authorities whom he had consulted, that they could insist upon that interpretation of the treaty. But when the Dutch Government said, that so far from that being the fair construction, the Indian Government, in regulating their tariff, had placed upon that treaty the same interpretation as that adopted by the Dutch—when he found, that the Dutch and Indian Governments concurred in interpreting the treaty as regulating the duties according to the nationality of the ship, and not according to the origin of the goods, he then felt himself prevented in fairness and justice from pressing further upon the Dutch his own construction. That was the state of the case. The papers when produced would speak for themselves. With regard to the encroachments which were said to have been made by the Dutch in the Indian seas, he was not aware, that any of the cases had been brought under his attention. The point chiefly pressed upon him was, that the Dutch Government in the island of Java had been extending their conquests in those parts, and that that extension was a violation of their treaty; but this treaty only stipulated, that the authorities of neither party should make any encroachments without the sanction and consent of their own Government, and in this case, upon application to the Government at the Hague, it appeared, that the proceedings of the authorities in the island of Java had received the sanction of their Government. There was, therefore, on that account, no reason for any representation being made as to the violation of that treaty. He would not then enter further into the subject, as he had no objection to produce the papers, and when they were produced, he had no doubt that he should be able to give every explanation which could be required.

Motion agreed to.

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