HC Deb 12 March 1841 vol 57 cc167-72

House in Committee on the East India Rum Bill. Bill recommitted.

On the third clause,

Mr. Hawes

rose to propose an amendment. The former bill did not require the Queen in Council to approve the regulations, and the effect requiring the alteration of those, would be to bring about a delay, of which he complained. That delay was, until the Queen in Council here, could approve of regulations that were made in India. Again, the rum to be imported was the produce of sugar. From whatever the sugar was obtained, where it was in a state of sugar, it would produce rum, and that rum would come into this country at the lower rate of duty. Now, the bill made a distinction between sugar produced from the sugar-cane, and sugar produced from any thing else. In the West Indies it was not produced from anything but the sugar-cane, but in the East Indies it was produced from two things, the sugar-cane and the date, and it would be impossible to decide from which the sugar was made. If no rum, the product of any other sugar than that of the cane, were to be admitted under this bill, it would shut out a great quantity of the rum of the East Indies. It would throw great difficulty in the way of the manufacture of rum, and also of sugar, in the East. In the first bill introduced on this subject by his right hon. Friend, there was no such distinction as in this; and he believed that the distinctive words were introduced at the suggestion of West India merchants, without giving to those who were connected with the East Indies an opportunity of pointing out the unfair effect which would be thereby produced upon their interests. He would move his amendments, and take the sense of the House upon them; and if they were rejected, he would, at another stage, take the sense of the House upon the whole bill. He concluded by moving—That, in the third clause, all the words after the word "operation," in the second line, down to the word "nor," in the seventh line, be omitted:—After the words "sugar-cane," in the eleventh line, to insert these words, "all other substances from which sugar is made, and allowed to be imported, under the Act of 6 and 7 Will. 4, c. 26."

Mr. Goulburn

said, it could not be fairly urged as a reproach upon the West India interests, that they were represented in that House. Had it been shown that they took any unfair advantage, there might have been some grounds for the hon. Gentleman's remark, but there was certainly none such taken. The whole point of the hon. Member's objections as they related to rum distilled from dates was out of the question, for there was no such thing, as appeared from the evidence given before the committee. The whole question before the committee was the propriety of giving to the produce of the sugar-cane in both the Indies the same protection; and upon that principle, and upon that principle alone, the bill was framed.

Mr. Labouchere

felt the House would acquit him of any intention of taking it by surprise, in his introduction of these alterations. The hon. Gentleman was wrong in supposing that the regulations made by the Governor-general in India would necessarily be void until confirmed by the Queen in Council. The regulations having been made by the Governor-general in India, the Custom-house would be bound by them, and it would not be necessary for the Queen in Council to confirm them, nor for any delay to take place. Whatever was objectionable on this principle was in the original bill. With regard to the exclusion of rum made from dates, as the information upon which he had founded the bill was taken from the evidence given before the committee, and as hardly any mention was made of the word "date," he found much excuse for himself in neglecting it in the bill. As to the rum made from dates, no man but believed it was very bad. But the hon. Gentleman said, let it be ever so bad it ought to be brought hither. The bill, however, was brought in as a sugar and rum bill, and not at all as a spirits bill. Sugar might be made of many things; of sweet potatoes, of beet root, of rice, and of many other things; and if he were told that spirits the produce of dates should be admitted, he should not know how to draw the distinction between spirits distilled from dates, and those made from other things. Unless he heard some stronger arguments than those urged by the hon. Gentleman, he did not feel dis- posed to depart from the principle that the rum distilled from the sugar cane, and not that made from anything else, was to be admitted.

Mr. Hogg

said, that the right hon. Gentleman argued erroneously, when he said that he would admit sugar made from dates, but not rum made from dates, because it was not made from dates at all, but from the refuse of the sugar. The sugar was the joint produce of the sugar cane and the date, and being a mixture altogether inevitable, it would exclude any conscientious man from making the declaration required by the Excise Laws. What was wanted was, that the refuse should not be thrown away, whether it came from the sugar cane or the date. The principle should be, that the sugar from the East and West Indies should be imported equally. Sugar extracted from dates was a very recent introduction, and that accounted for the little mention made of it before the committee, but it was now very extensively used.

Mr. Gladstone

could not vote for the first amendment proposed by the hon. Gentleman referring to the regulations made by the Governor-general. After five years' experience, he could not see that any practical inconvenience had arisen. With respect to the second, he should give a very different vote. The right hon. Gentleman said that, in Custom-house language, rum meant spirits distilled from sugar cane, and from the sugar cane alone; but in that he was mistaken. It was quite erroneous to make a distinction between the sugar made from the date and that made from the sugar cane. He would say that no evidence was more contrary to the facts than that given by Mr. Goucher, and that not only a fine spirit, but a spirit in great quantity, was obtained from the date tree. Nothing could be more slovenly than the manner in which the proceedings before the committee of last year were conducted; and it was quite clear that the witnesses who stood forward to enlighten the committee were inadequately acquainted with the subject to which the inquiry related. He agreed that the right hon. Gentleman was right in the alteration which he proposed to make with respect to the discriminating duties in Canada; and, after the statement which the right hon. Gentleman had made, it was difficult to understand how be could hesitate applying to spirits the same principle which had been applied to sugar. It was quite impossible to discriminate between the spirit produced from the date tree and that produced from the sugar cane, for the date tree was as much a sugar tree as the cane plant was a sugar plant. The right course would be to include all strictly saccharine plants, and when the right hon. Gentleman submitted that he had been misled in some particulars by the defective and inaccurate information of the witnesses, surely the House must see, as the matter stood, how impossible it was that anything so unreasonable and inconsistent as the present proposition could ever be allowed to form part of the commercial system of this country.

Mr. Labouchere

said, what he wished was, that all spirit produced from sugar, in our colonies, should be let in on an equal footing; but what he desired to guard against was the introduction of spirit produced from rice or any other article. On the whole, however, he was anxious to reconsider the matter, and, therefore, he should postpone this subject until the next stage of the bill, when he would state precisely the course he meant to pursue. His object was to promote the cultivation of sugar, but while he allowed spirits distilled from sugar to be admitted on an equal footing, he meant that the admission of spirits generally should not be permitted. If the spirit distilled from the date tree could not be discriminated from that produced from sugar, there could be no reason for excluding the former; but if, on the other hand, it could, then it was his intention to adhere to the original principle of the bill. With respect to the first amendment of the hon. Gentleman, the Member for Lambeth, he begged to say, that he must give to it his decided negative.

Mr. Warburton

hoped his hon. Friend would withdraw his amendment, as he could introduce the words he wished inserted in another part of the clause. The hon. Member contended that there was abundance of evidence before them to show that excellent rum was produced from the date-tree, and that it should be admitted on the same terms as the article produced from the sugar-cane.

Sir Alexander Grant

said, that much exaggeration prevailed as to the insufficiency of the supply of sugar from the West-Indies, and in proof of this he had only to say, that since the 26th of January last the price of sugar had fallen 20s. in the cwt. in some instances, and nearly 20s. in all. The reduction was equal to 2d. in the pound, but whether the consumer benefitted to that extent he was unable to say. At all events, he hoped that the inquiry which the right hon. Gentleman was about to make on the subject would be conducted in a spirit of fairness towards all parties.

Mr. John O'Connell

complained that there was no provision in the bill to prevent slave labour being employed in the production of rum in the East-Indies.

Sir J. C Hobhouse

thought it would be somewhat extraordinary to introduce provisions having refence to slavery in a Rum Duty Bill. As soon as the result of the commission which had sat in India on the subject of slavery was known, and he had reason to expect their report by the next mail, it would be quite time enough to enter upon the discussion of that important topic. At present all he should say was, that if hon. Gentlemen conceived that slavery as it had existed in the West-Indies was now to be found in the East-Indies, they were labouring under a mistake.

Mr. Hawes

then consented to withdraw his first amendment, but said that he was determined to take the sense of the committee on his second by proposing some other words which would accomplish equally the object he had in view. There was now little difference between them, as the East and West India rum produced from sugar was to be admitted on the same terms. With this understanding he should suggest other words than those which he had proposed when they came to the 21st line of the clause.

Amendment withdrawn.

Mr. Goulburn

wished to know if the committee were to stop at this stage, of the proceeding, or whether the re-consideration which the right hon. Gentleman proposed, was only to apply to one particular point?

Mr. Labouchere

replied, that he sought delay only as to one point, and said his wish was, that they should go through the clauses of the bill, reserving the discussion to which he referred for the next stage.

Discussion on the subject postponed.

The other clauses having been agreed to with amendments, the House resumed.

The report to be received on the ensuing Monday.