HC Deb 24 May 1841 vol 58 cc709-21

On the motion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the House resolved itself into a committee of Ways and Means, Mr. Bernal in the chair.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer moved the following resolution— That toward making good the Supply granted to her Majesty, the several duties on sugar and molasses now payable, or to be imposed by any act to be passed in the present Session of Parliament shall be further continued.

Sir R. Peel

said, that he would second that motion. On Wednesday last the House came to a resolution declaring, "that this House is not prepared (especially with the present prospects of the supply of sugar from British possessions) to adopt the measure proposed by her Majesty's. Government for the reduction of the duty on foreign sugars." The Chancellor of the Exchequer's present motion was in exact conformity with the resolution which the House had already agreed to, and he (Sir R. Peel) would certainly give it his entire support. If any person could suppose that, in consequence of what had recently passed, he entertained any desire to obstruct the public service by throwing difficulties in the way of measures of this kind, he begged leave to state that no such considerations would influence him. The motion now submitted to the House by the Chancellor of the Exchequer was in conformity with his opinions, and with those of the majority of the House of Commons; but, even if it were not so, he would infinitely rather take the sense of the House on a plain and direct motion of want of confidence, than upon a question connected with the public service, the adoption of which latter course might create doubts and hesitation amongst the commercial interests. He would therefore, not only support the right hon. Gentleman's proposition, but would abstain from submitting any motion for limitting the period for which the continuance of the sugar-duties were required.

Mr. Hume

said, that the right hon. Baronet had thought proper to read the resolution to which the House had agreed last week. [Lord J. Russell—No, he did not.] Well, he read part of it, which declared that the House was unwilling to make any reduction in the sugar duties. He hoped the country would understand by that, the effect of the passage which the right hon. Baronet had read with so much good will, whilst he was triumphantly supported by the other side of the House, was to make every man in the country pay two-pence more a pound for his sugar than he ought to do. It was all very well for the noble Lord, the Member for North Lancashire, to publish to the country that the effect of the alteration of the sugar-duties proposed by the Government, would be only to reduce the price of sugar the centesimal part of a farthing, whereas the effect of existing duties during last year was to make the consumer pay three pence a pound more than he ought to have paid for every pound of sugar. He was sorry to say, that from all he had heard, the price was not likely to be much reduced this year. If anything was calculated to make the people understand the benefit they were likely to derive from the right hon. Baronet's interference, it was the course which he had pursued with reference to this question. It was a matter which came home to the pockets of every man. Every man would have to thank the right hon. Baronet for making him pay 2d. or 3d. more than was necessary for his pound of sugar, in order that the difference might go into the pockets of the West-India proprietors. He had not expected that the right hon. Baronet would have prided himself as he had done on the victory which he had gained. The right hon. Baronet supposed, that his victory was obtained over Ministers, but it was a victory against the public. It was a victory over the people of England. The right, hon. Baronet said, in effect, to the people of this country, "I see you are distressed—I am aware of your unfortunate condition, but I will not consent to let you have cheap sugar." He hoped, that the right hon. Baronet would recommend his friends to read the paragraph which he himself had read to the House from the hustings at the approaching election. That would be saying to the people, "We feel for your wants, but we are determined to keep up the sugar monopoly. We are sorry for you, but this is a fit and proper opportunity for obtaining a temporary advantage over Ministers at your expense. Do not mind, however: we will do some good by-and-by, if you will only give us the opportunity." He hoped the people of England would have more common sense than to trust them. If the right hon. Baronet's conduct on this question was to be taken as an earnest of what he would do hereafter, it was clear, that he was opposed to all measures calculated to afford relief to the people. He really was surprised to see the right hon. Baronet in such good humour, and priding himself in reminding Members on his (Mr. Hume's) side of the House of the words of the resolution which he and his supporters had carried in spite of all the Ministerial forces which could be mustered. He admitted the fact, and he hoped the people of this country would be able to appreciate the part which the right hon. Baronet had acted upon that occasion—a part against the people at large.

Sir H. Peel

said, this was his reward for supporting Ministers. Why the hon. Member for Kilkenny should feel it necessary to quarrel with him because he was in good humour he could by no means understand. Every one must see, that it would have been perfectly consistent with the views which he (Sir R. Peel) entertained, to oppose the motion which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had placed in the hands of the Chairman. He had already explained his reasons for not offering any opposition to that motion—an opposition which would have been called factious. As the hon. Member had referred to the hustings he would put him in possession of the speech which he (Sir R. Peel) would read from them. It was a speech delivered in the House of Commons on the 9th of July, 1840. The right hon. Baronet then read the following extract:— SUGAR DUTIES.—Mr. Hume: I wish to know whether the right hon. President of the Board of Trade is aware that it is reported, that a quantity of sugar, the produce of slave-labour, has been imported into this country for home consumption, paying an enormous differential duty. It appears to me that, if this practice be allowed to prevail, the efforts of the House to exclude slave-grown sugar from this country will be tendered abortive. Mr. Labouchere: I believe it is correct that a small portion of foreign sugar has been admitted on the payment of the usual duty charged on that article. I cannot say whether the sugar was the produce of slave-labour or not.

Mr. Hume

I have no objection to the importation of sugar.

Sir R. Peel

Stop a minute.— But (the hon. Member continued) if we want any addition to the stock of sugar for home-consumption, I think we ought to take that in preference which is the produce of free labour.

Mr. Hume

did not think that the right hon. Baronet could have been in the House on that occasion to which the extract he had read referred. The right hon. Gentleman should bear in mind, that a motion had been made in the House to admit foreign sugar at a reduced duty, for which he voted. The House rejected that motion; he was against the House, and on putting It is question on the occasion referred to by the right hon. Baronet, he alluded to the opinion of the House as being against the introduction of sugar, and he said, that if the House continued of the same opinion, such and such consequences would ensue, sugar would be brought up to such a price that he would admit every kind and any kind of sugar that could be got. It was against the calamity which threatened and which did overtake the people of England that he was protesting. The right hon. Baronet thought he had obtained a triumph over him, whereas his allusion was to the House having voted against the very object he had in view, which was to admit sugar. He had no hesitation in saying, that hav- ing joined the hon. Member for Wigan, in his unsuccessful motion, he was right in wishing to obtain all that could be got by taking foreign sugar, giving the preference, however, to free labour produce. There was no inconsistency, then, in his conduct. He was willing to admit all kinds of sugar in furtherance of the object which he had unsuccessfully attempted to attain. But he believed, that if that question had been attended to on that occasion, the people of England would have been saved a tax of upwards of 4,000,000l. sterling. He believed he had himself brought forward the question of East-Indian sugar at four different times, and he had always voted in support of the introduction of sugar at one common duty from every part of the world. His object was to cheapen every necessary of life against the particular protection of class interests to the taxation of the people, and he should be obliged if the right hon. Baronet could find a single exception to that general rule of his conduct.

Sir De Lacy Evans

said, that as he understood it, the resolution before the House was for the continuance of the West-India monopoly; that being the case, the right hon. Baronet was not only entitled to second it, but he would be justified in telling the people from the hustings, that he had, or ought to have been, its proposer. The right hon. Baronet was at the head of a formidable body of supporters—of confederated monopolists—and he hoped, that the right hon. Baronet would, at the hustings, have the candour to inform the people, that the continuance of the sugar monopoly was chiefly owing to him.

Lord J. Russell

said, he had contradicted the hon. Member for Kilkenny, when he stated, that the right hon. Baronet had read the resolution proposed on a former night by the noble Lord, the Member for Liverpool. His reason for offering that contradiction was, that the right hon. Baronet, in referring to the resolution, entirely left out the humanity part of it. Everybody knew, while the discussion was going on, that that part of the resolution was a mere pretext. Nobody but his right hon. and learned Friend, the Member for the Tower Hamlets, believed, that anything serious was meant by it. The right hon. Baronet, therefore, in referring to the resolution, naturally enough, read only the essential part of it; namely, that which was connected with the position of the Ministry, and left out all that was merely intended to catch the feeling against slavery; which, although it succeeded in the case of his right hon. and learned Friend, the Member for the Tower Hamlets, had totally failed throughout the country. With respect to the present motion, it was as the hon. Gentleman had just said, a motion for the continuance of the sugar duties for the present year, including, of course, the prohibition, for he could call it nothing else, against the admission of foreign sugar. He could not avoid adverting for a moment to what he considered was a misrepresentation of what he had stated on the subject on a former occasion. What he had said was, that if the West-India planters could bring their sugar into this country, so that it could be sold at 61s., they would be no sufferers by the proposition. But he had also said, that if they should fail in their promise—and it was mere matter of calculation and assertion—then the people of this country would be taxed without the hope of a remedy. Those who quoted his speech had quoted the former part of his argument faithfully, but had left out the latter. If the calculation should turn out to be erroneous, there would be a tax of 2d. or 3d. a lb. on the price of sugar. What he desired, let the price of sugar be what it might, was to secure the people against the effects of monopoly.

Lord Stanley

It appeared extraordinary, during the whole of the eight nights' debate, that the noble Lord should never have thought fit to make the explanation just given. He must say, however, that the noble Lord did not appear to be quite so accurate in his recollection of what took place on that occasion as he usually was. The noble Lord was not answering any speech or argument when he made the statement alluded to. It was at the commencement of the debate when opening the plan of the Government, that the noble Lord, in stating what he apprehended would be the result of the Government measure, informed the House, that the average prices of Brazilian sugar had been from 21s. to 22s., and that the addition of the duty would raise it to 57s. or 58s.; to which must be added 5 per cent, for the rise consequent upon the increased demand created by the reduction of duty, making the whole price about 60s. to 61s. Therefore, said the noble Lord (Lord John Russell), after all, you have not so much to apprehend from the proposal, for it is not probable, that the price of sugar would fall below 60s. The noble Lord then went on to speak of the distress in Bolton, and assumed the relief, that would be afforded by the reduction of the sugar duties, bringing the article within the reach of those who were now unable to consume it. In answer to the noble Lord he put the noble Lord in this dilemma. If they were to believe the statement of the noble Lord, the Minister of the Crown, who had brought forward the proposition—and he recollected the circumstance, because he had said at the time, to his right lion. Friend, the Member for Pembroke, that the noble Lord was going through the same statement, and using the same figures, that were in his possession—if they were to believe the statement of the noble Lord, then, upon the noble Lord's own showing, the reduction held out was nothing at all, and that it would not amount to six-tenths of a farthing in the pound. That was the dilemma in which the noble Lord had placed himself; and it was not in answer to any statement made on that (the Opposition) side of the House.

Lord J. Russell

The noble Lord knows well that if I had attempted to speak again in the debate, it would—

Lord Stanley

You did speak in reply.

Lord J. Russell

After the amendment. The noble Lord said, that I was making my own calculation. I was proceeding on a statement that had been made in a petition or memorial, a petition upon which the House was called upon to act, and in that petition it was stated that the price was 61s.

Mr. Wakley

said, the right hon. Baronet had taken great credit to himself for supporting her Majesty's Government, and seemed surprised that he had not received a larger amount of gratitude from (the Ministerial) side of the House. The right hon. Baronet said, that he had afforded to the Government his powerful support. Yes, he had a painful recollection that on a variety of occasions the right hon. Gentleman had done so, and that fact caused him to ask the plain and simple question, of what use it would be to this country that the resolution of which the right hon. Gentleman had given notice for Thursday should be carried—if the right hon. Gentleman was prepared to pursue the same policy as the Government, with the single exception of that good part of it which they had lately developed. Under those circumstances, of what advantage to the country would it be, that the right hon. Baronet and his supporters should sit on (the Ministerial) side of the House? That question would be asked out of doors. John Bull, after all, was a sensible person, and he would naturally ask, of what use would it be to him that the right hon. Gentleman should sit on that side, if his measures were to be identical with the measures of the present administration? He considered that at last—and the present was a proper time to mention it— that at last a very serious conflict was commencing in the country. There never was a time when public opinion was more feverish and apprehensive with respect to results, than at the present moment. He for one was free to confess, that the present administration, in a number of instances, had not given satisfaction to the people, and that many of their measures had been objectionable in a public point of view. But why had that been so? Because they had assumed too much of a Tory character. That was the reason that the present administration had become so unpopular. And he would say, that until within the last few days, their unpopularity had been rapidly increasing. But now that they were proposing measures which, if carried, would produce a great amount of public good, what was the first effect? A violent, strenuous, and organised opposition from that party who were exclaiming—" Give us the reins of Government." He thought the party soliciting power had already taken a false step, and placed themselves in a false position, which they would rue in a short space of time. That was his prediction; it might not perhaps be verified, but he conscientiously believed it would. In that House, he scarcely knew whether there was or was not a Radical party; if there were such a party, it had no recognised leader—at least he knew not where to look for the person. If there had been, he thought that her Majesty might receive support from that not powerful but honest party. But there must be a change between the organised factions of Whig and Tory, and he trusted the good sense of the people of England would advance to the rescue. He had been told that the vote of the other night was a vote of want of confidence in the Ministry; but lie could not regard it in that light, and he conceived the construction to be an unfair one. He, for one, had looked at the measure simply with reference to its character, and the effect it was likely to produce upon the public; and he had supported it, because he believed it would be conducive to much public benefit. While he occupied a seat in that House he would take every resolution and motion upon its merits, and vote accordingly. It had been said, that the proposition was made to turn out the present Ministers. But for what purpose was that, if, in so doing, they were to help those who would support the same scheme of policy that the Government had advocated? It had been exclaimed, "Turn out the Poor-law Ministers!" Aye; but where were they to get Anti-poor-law Ministers? The noble Lord had said that night, that he did not intend to go on with the Poor-law Amendment Bill. He was delighted to hear it, and that declaration would be hailed with delight by hundreds and thousands of his fellow countrymen. Would the right lion. Baronet opposite bring forward a Poor-law Amendment Bill? He thought not: lie hoped not. Still the right lion. Baronet had advocated that measure. The right lion. Baronet had said, that when in office he would take a careful review of the circumstances of the country, but was there anything to prevent the right lion. Baronet from doing that while out of office? The right hon. Baronet, while unencumbered by deputations, and business of every kind, would have a better opportunity than after he had accepted the seals of office. However, when the motion for Thursday came on, he really hoped that something tangible and explicit would be brought forward; for it was extraordinary, and without a parallel, that the party which the right hon. Gentleman led with go much ability, should expect to enter into power unpledged to any one measure for the public good—to any one measure in which the public felt an interest—to any one promise upon which the public could turn round and say, "You have not fulfilled your engagements." The right hon. Gentleman, it must be admitted, possessed great capacity, and was at the head of a great party in that House: the right hon. Gentleman commanded powers which caused him to be in the highest degree capable of rendering services to this kingdom, and he would, therefore, entreat the right hon. Gentleman to take that careful review of which he had spoken, between that evening and next Thursday; and then let them know boldly and distinctly what it was they were to expect from him and his supporters, if they should come over to that side of the House. He could tell the right hon. Gentleman, that if he would promise more than the present Ministry, he, for one, would vote for him, and no one would give him a more cordial and hearty support. He was there to serve his constituents, and not himself, but nothing was more unsatisfactory than uncertainty. There was a little nursery verse, "Open your mouth and shut your eyes, and see what luck will send you." But that blindfold state would not do for the people. He was dissatisfied with the time when the proposal was brought forward, and he had expressed his feelings on the subject. He then thought that the great cause was perilled by the time the proposal was made. If, however, the Ministers were sincere, he was satisfied they would be upheld by the public, and they would be, and must be, triumphant. Belonging to the small section in that House, called Radicals, he would entreat the right hon. Baronet to exercise his enlarged faculties between that evening and Thursday, and try if he could not hold out something to the people more liberal than the proposal of her Majesty's Government. The right hon. Baronet shook his head, but if he could come forward with a comprehensive scheme of government, showing the expenditure of the country decreased, while its revenue would be increased, without adding to the burdens of the people, the right hon. Baronet would receive from the representatives of the people that support he would be entitled to receive —they sitting in that House, not the advocates of any party, but the great party of the people.

Lord John Russell

said, it might seem rather out of order on his part, to answer any observations with regard to the postponement of the Poor-law Bill. He would however say, that in the present state of affairs in the House, while the questions relating to the budget, and other topics to which great interest was attached, were pending, he conceived, in the first place, that to have proceeded with that bill would have occasioned protracted discus- sion, without producing a final result. In the next place, with the expectation that every Gentleman seemed to entertain, that he would have to account for his conduct on the hustings, there would have been many motions made, and many speeches delivered, which would have had reference rather to the hustings than to the bill before the House. If, however, the hon. Gentleman imagined that, in consequence of the postponement of that measure, he had at all altered his views with respect to the Poor-law, or with respect to any opinions he had given, in regard to particular parts of it, it would be better at once to state, that no such change had taken place. In postponing that bill, whether those on this side of the House form the Government, or whether other Gentlemen occupy these seats, he must say, the principles of the Poor-law Act were sound, and must recommend themselves to any Parliament of this country; and he believed that they would remain the principles upon which Poor-laws in this country would ever continue to be administered.

Mr. Slaney

said, he believed the measures which were proposed by her Majesty's Government were necessary—Gentlemen should bear in mind the great changes which had taken place in the relative position of the agricultural and commercial population of the country. He thought that this alone was a reason why there should be a revision of the commercial code of the country. It was absolutely necessary for the welfare of the people, that the general principles of free trade should be cautiously examined, and carefully admitted. He took this opportunity of stating these opinions, as no opportunity was afforded him during the recent debate.

Sir C. Grey

said, it was evident that the right lion. Baronet, by the motion he had announced, wished, if he could, to divert the public attention from principles to persons. He charged the right hon. Baronet with design to prevent the discussion of the great measures of public benefit which had been brought forward, and to hinder them from being so fully argued in that House, as that the people would be well informed on the merits of them before the appeal was made to their judgment in the usual form. He could construe in no other way the notice which the right hon. Baronet had interposed, so as to preclude the discussion on the most important of the three measures, if his motion should be carried in the interval. Seeing that they were placed in this situation, he was desirous of recalling the views on which he had acted in this emergency, which he predicted the right hon. Baronet would find, before he escaped from it, to have been the most important that had arisen in the present century. He considered that the gauntlet had been thrown down by his side of the House on the principle of removing prohibitory duties on articles of foreign produce, and the right hon. Baronet if he had any pretensions to fill the highest place in the councils of the country, ought to have taken it up manfully. With respect to the grand measure of a modification of the Corn-laws, he up to the time when the plan of Ministers was announced had always opposed any motion for a change of those laws. He should have been opposed to it still, if brought forward as an insulated measure; he should always have opposed any party which offered a revocation of those laws, unless they had consented at the same time to act on the great principle of a remission of prohibitory duties on imports. He should then have considered the measure as an act of legislation directed against a particular class, which had a tendency to bring that class into distress; but the moment that he understood the principle of a general alleviation of duties on imports to be introduced, while care was taken, in abolishing prohibition, not at once to do away with protection, thus preventing that distress which might otherwise ensue from a too sudden change, he voted for acting on the same principle with respect to the Corn-laws. It was not his intention at present to enter further into the subject, except to advert to the line taken by the noble Lord the Member for North Lancashire and some others in the late debate. They had discussed the matter as if the reduction of price on imported commodities were the sole advantage to be derived from the measures introduced by Government. He considered that as the least of the advantages that might fairly be expected from the adoption of the Ministerial scheme. The first and greatest benefit that would be derived from the abolition of prohibitory duties on imports from foreign countries—which, stated in other terms, was the opening of the great market of the United. Kingdom to the productions of the whole world, instead of confining it to those of our own colonies—was the calling into employment the whole mass of our unemployed manufacturing population. The increase of imports would tend to an increased demand for exports; it would prevent those distresses which the Poor-laws were framed to prevent; it would guard against the exigencies arising from the fluctuations in the manufacturing districts, in which thousands were reduced to idleness by a single stroke. The next reason he had for giving his cordial support to Ministers was, that he saw a fair prospect that by the simple reduction of duty, a certain increase of revenue, to the extent of 1,700,000l. might be calculated upon. He challenged the right hon. Baronet opposite to point out any less objectionable way in which the present deficiency could be made up. He trusted the right hon. Baronet had not given his notice of motion without making up his mind as to the proper mode of supplying the deficiency. He called on the House not to permit the subject to be brought to a close without taking care to place fully before the people of the country the benefits of opening their markets to foreign produce, and to discuss these important questions in all their bearings.

The resolution agreed to, and ordered to be reported.

House resumed.

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