HC Deb 22 June 1843 vol 70 cc205-13

Order of the Day read for the House to resolve itself into a committee upon the Sugar Duties Bill.

On the question that the Speaker do leave the Chair,

Mr. Cobden

said, that he believed the subject upon which they were about to legislate was, with one exception only, the most vital, in connexion with the commerce of the country, which could occupy their consideration. It was proposed that they should go into committee on the present Sugar Bill, which was about the very worst bill that was ever devised for this country. He begged to call the attention of hon. Gentlemen opposite to the system upon which our colonial affairs were now administered, for he believed that on that subject great misapprehension prevailed amongst them. He did not wish to be misunderstood as to the course he was going to take. He was not opposed to the retention of colonies any more than hon. Gentlemen opposite. He was as anxious as any one that the English race should spread itself over the earth; and he believed that colonization, under a proper system of management, might be made as conducive to the interests of the mother country as to the emigrants themselves. But he also believed that the system upon which our colonial affairs were now conducted was one of unmixed evil, injustice, and loss to the people of this country. He was about to mention a few facts in support of this proposition, and if they should be disputed he was prepared to give proofs of their truth. What was the first thing we should require of our colonies in the present condition of the people of this country, in order to make them profitable to us? Why, it was that they should help us to maintain our existing burthens. But did the colonies contribute towards the revenue of this country? He believed there was a great deal of misapprehension upon this point—not in the House, but out of doors—and his present object was to have that point at once answered. Did the British colonies contribute towards the taxation of this country? Why, this question was met at the very threshold by the act of the 18th of Geo. 3rd, which expressly declared that we had not any right to tax the colonies for the benefit of the mother country. The British Parliament passed that law after trying to tax our American colonies, and they all knew the result of that trial. But having passed that law repudiating the right of taxing our colonies, it led them next to inquire, did the colonies pay their own expenses? In looking into that question, he found that the mother country furnished her colonies with an army and a navy, and maintained every description of military defence all over the world; that in some cases this country supplied the colonies with schoolmasters, with bishops, with magistrates; that she built them lighthouses, constructed their canals, and, in fact, the mother country not only did not derive any revenue from her colonies, but that, besides maintaining for them large fleets and armies, she paid almost everything that constituted the governmental expenses of the colonies. Now, if these were facts, hon. Gentlemen opposite would see that they were important facts, and that they bore importantly upon the question they were now going to decide; that was to say, the question whether the Legislature ought to give to the colonies a monopoly for supplying articles of subsistence to the people of this country. Those persons took a very inadequate view of the expenses of our colonies who confined themselves to the direct money votes made on account of the colonies. It was forgotten that a large proportion of the army was devoted to the service of the colonies. The distribution of the British forces on the 1st of January this year he found to be thus: out of 88,510 rank and file, there were stationed abroad (exclusively of India) 44,529 rank and file, the number left at home being 43,981. Thus, it appeared that more than half of our army was stationed in the colonies. But it had been stated by the authorities at the Horse Guards, and it was also stated by the noble Lord the Member for Tiver- ton, when Secretary at War, that for every 10,000 men in the colonies, 5,000 were wanted in England for the purposes of making the necessary exchanges, and for recruiting the regiments abroad; therefore, not merely half, but three-fourths of our army were devoted to the colonies. The army estimates this year amounted to 6 225,000l.; the proportion of that sum, which might be put down as being expended on account of the colonies, was at least 4,500,000l. But the colonies also have a navy; wherever there were colonies, there did the mother country station ships to guard and serve those colonies. Yet these ships were not paid for by the colonies, but were supported out of the taxes of England. The estimates put down for the navy this year amounted to 6,382,000l. He had no means of ascertaining what proportion of those estimates was allotted to the colonies, but it was quite certain that a very large proportion was so applied, and thus another large additional charge must be put down to the debit of the colonies on account of their naval force. He now came to the ordnance, the amount of which bore a proportion always to the extent. of the army and navy, and the sum Voted for which department was 1,849,000l., of which he put down a large share to the account of the colonies. In short, it would he found according to the lowest estimate, that five or six millions sterling were every year applied to the maintenance of the colonial army and navy. This, however, was only a part, and other charges in direct votes of the House were to be taken into consideration; in the present year, these direct votes under the head of Colonial Estimates amounted to no less a sum than 241,000l.He did not intend to enter into the question how far those votes had been right or wrong; he did not mean to invite his hon. Friend, the Member for Coventry, to discuss the estimates again. It was sufficient for his purpose that the House had thought fit to pass the votes, and he asked the House, with him, to take these charges into consideration, on going into the question as to whether the colonies should be protected, as it was termed, in the supply of their productions to the mother country. Let the facts he had stated, and was about to state, he disputed, or let them go with him in the argument which he deduced from them. He would furnish the House with a few items. Governors' establishments in the West Indies cost this country 18,667l., and to these were to be added the clergy of North America, to the amount of 11,5001. The stipendiary magistrates in the West Indies and at the Cape of Good Hope occasioned a charge of 49,7001., all taken out of the taxes paid by the people of this country. Lighthouses in the Bahamas had cost 1,920l., besides which, there were permanent charges for the garrisons and colonies of which many persons had no idea. Thus the citadel of Halifax cost 175,863l.; the new works at Gibraltar, 225,0001.; the fortifications at Kingston, 220,0001.; the completion of the works at Corfu were charged at 100,5001.; the new barracks at the Bahamas at 17,0001., and the permanent barracks in Jamaica at 30,0001. These amounts were all paid out of the taxes of this country. He had only quoted a few of the items, but they embraced all kinds of services, civil, military, naval, and ecclesiastical. Among other small charges, he found a verger's salary and the rent of a Protestant burial ground at Quebec. What he had already advanced, however, had no application to lately-invented colonies, if he might so call them. He believed that some hon. Gentleman near him had been much engaged in promoting the establishment of colonies on a self-supporting plan. He would take one of them, New Zealand, which had been brought under the notice of the House on a distinct pledge that it was to support itself, and some hon. Friends near him had stood godfathers to the enterprise. He believed that the population of New Zealand was now about 10,000 or 12,000 souls, and for them no less a sum than 61,0001. had this year been voted out of the taxes of this country. Among the charges, he found 6001. for a bishop—a bishop of New Zealand! —besides 5901. for chaplains and schools. It had been said that South Australia was to be self-supported; the hon. Member for Lambeth reminded him that such was the fact. It was established about eight years ago, and it had now no more than 20,000 inhabitants, if so many, yet he believed he was within the mark when he said that it had already cost the people of these kingdoms more than 400,0001., and he had been told that we did not know the worst of it yet. There was a still smaller colony recently sprung up, the Falkland Islands. Somebody had, dis- covered that it was important to make them a British colony; yet they produced no timber, not a stick. They had scarcely even wholesome grass on which animals could subsist; they grew no corn, yet they had been taken possession of, and a flaming acccunt of the advantages to be derived from them had been promulgated. He was in a condition to prove the degree of advantage they were to this country at present, for this year 4,3501. had been Voted for the Falkland Islands. The returns on the Table stated that the population consisted of seventy-eight souls, including the governor's establishment, so that the cost to this country was about 551. a head; the governor received 6001., a magistrate 4001., a chaplain 3001., and a surgeon 3001. He was not now discussing the propriety of any of these grants; but he asked how it was expected that this country would be reimbursed for the outlay? The colonies, as he had shown, contributed nothing to our taxation, but we were taught to believe that we were compensated by our trade for the expenses to which we were subjected by our dependencies. He now came to the mode in which he wished to apply these facts as arguments, and to show in what way the colonial trade did reimburse the country for the expenses of the colonies. What was our colonial trade? Certain persons, whom, perhaps, he might call "young England," were fond of the words, "ships, colonies, and commerce," and they were constantly throwing in the teeth of others the advantage of the colonies. Had these Gentlemen ever considered the extent of the colonial trade? In 1840, the whole amount of exports, according to the returns before the House, was 51,000,0001.; and out of that fifty one millions, sixteen millions of exports were to the colonies, including the East Indies. Thus, not one-third of our export trade was to our colonies, and from the sixteen millions, six millions were to be deducted for the East Indies, (which, as he had stated, were self-supporting, and they were the only part of our colonies which did pay their own expenses,) leaving only ten millions as the amount of trade to be set against the five or six millions of money annually taken out of the pockets of the people of this country. Ten millions in round numbers was the amount of the trade with our colonies, exclusive of the East Indies, and upon this ten millions of exports we incurred an expense of from five to six millions a year. Then, what sort of trade was this? It was precisely as if a shop-keeper should give, with every pound's worth of goods, half a sovereign to his customer. The notion to which currency was given, was that this trade was extremely profitable, not that it was so large, but that it was so especially advantageous. A greater delusion had never been circulated; it was not in the nature of things that an extra price should be paid by the colonies for commodities, which all the rest of the world could obtain at a cheaper rate. Two-thirds of our trade was to neutral countries, and it was impossible to derive greater profit from goods sent to our colonies, than from those sent to North America, Brazil, or Russia. He asked, then, whether this was exactly a trade which was to warrant the claim of a monopoly? Whether in addition to all other expenses, the people of Great Britain ought to be called upon to pay double its value for every article obtained from the colonies? Such was the exact condition of affairs; not only did this country pay five or six millions annually for the expenses of the colonies, but three or four millions extra as an additional price for articles supplied by the colonies. This was the process which had been annually sanctioned by Parliament. Some Gentlemen had felt offended with him for saying out of doors that business was conducted in the House of Commons with less wisdom than was required for the successful management of a chandler's shop. He would ask what retail trade could be carried on, on such a plan, unless the conductor of it found his way into the Gazette, and he would perhaps meet with no little difficulty in obtaining his certificate afterwards. Now what, he would ask, became of the arguments by which hon. Members on the other side usually defended another monopoly maintained at home? When complaint was made of the monopoly in corn, the other side exclaimed, "Look at our taxation, at the excessive and exclusive burthens we bear;" but here he brought before the House a case where monopoly was maintained, although there were not only no exclusive burthens, but the people enjoying the monopoly were exempted from the contribution of taxes which the inhabitants of other countries were compelled to pay. The landowners in England insisted that they could not compete with foreigners in the production of corn, on account of heavy taxation; but what was to prevent the West Indies from competing with other countries, seeing that they had not only no extra taxation, but that they were exempted from many charges which in other countries were required for the support of the Government? The noble Lord the Member for London had laid down a very sound doctrine, as far as it went, on the subject of corn. He said, I repudiate protecting duties on the score of general taxation, but I support a fixed duty on the score of specific taxation. He asked that noble Lord to go with him in abolishing the monopoly in the West Indies, upon his own principle. There could be no ground for maintaining that monopoly. The only ground the noble Lord had taken failed him, and in defence of the monopoly in the West Indies he bad not left himself an argument to rest upon. Many hon. Members seemed to think that colonies were the main, if not the sole, support of our shipping. He had stated the small proportion which the trade with our colonies bore to the whole trade of the country, and in shipping only one-third were employed in the colonial trade; two-thirds, or nearly two-thirds, was employed in foreign, independent, and neutral markets, where there could be no protection and where all were subject to competition. He should like therefore exceedingly to understand on what ground the Chancellor of the Exchequer was about to propose that the people of this country should pay for sugar double the price it bore in other countries. He hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would carry with him into the discussion the facts he had broadly laid down as to the expense of the colonies to Great Britain; and he wished him to consider well how, in the present condition of the people, he could continue to lay upon them these most unjust burthens. He would boldly ask whether, in the case of the West Indies, there was even a shadow of that pretence which it was asserted existed in other cases. The extent of the colonies, as regarded population, had been monstrously misrepresented: the whole population, with the exception of the East Indies, at this moment, did not amount to five millions. If he took merely the British race, we had not a population of two millions and a half in all our colonies in Europe, Asia, Africa, and America, including the East Indies. He made no reference to extent of territory; it was with people we had to deal, and not with barren wastes. Of what use was it, in the present condition of this kingdom, to point to a boundless extent of territory in America when people were wanted as customers and consumers? The system of trade in this country shut it out from the populous and civilized nations of the world, in order to maintain a monopoly for the sake of two millions and a half of the British race, independently of negroes and natives. Looking at the subject as a matter of policy, he would ask whether, in the present state of this country, it was fit that such a line of policy should be persevered in? Looking at Brazil alone, let it be remembered that one of its rivers would hold in its mouth the whole of the West India Islands without obstructing its navigation. Here, indeed, was a boundless field for the operations of commerce. He did not admit that the West Indies had any right to this monopoly, even if he had not shown what an enormous amount of taxation was borne for them by this country; but he contended that the very argument used on the other side, in defence of the Corn-laws, was cut from under the feet of those who advocated the sugar monopoly by the facts he had adduced. If the facts were disputed, some difference might be made in the conclusions; but if they were not denied, and all knew that they were undeniable, the deductions he had drawn from them were inevitable, Therefore he wished to stop this proceeding at the outset; but at the same time he reserved to himself the right of opposing the resolutions should the House resolve itself into a committee. He opposed the motion that the Speaker leave the Chair, and begged to submit the following resolution as an amendment:— That in tile opinion of this House it is not expedient that, in addition to the great expense to which the people of this country are subjected for the civil, military, and naval establishments of the colonies, they should be compelled to pay a higher price for the productions of those colonies than that at which similar commodities could be procured from other countries, and that therefore all protective duties in favour of colonial produce ought to be abolished.

Mr. G. Berkeley

spoke to order. He apprehended that the amendment was irregular.

The Speaker

apprehended that the amendment could not be put in its present shape. All amendments, except on motions for going into Committee of Supply and ways and means, ought to be essentially analogous to the subject. The amendment of the hon. Member for Stockport related to Colonial duties generally, and went far beyond the Sugar duties and could not, therefore, be put.

Mr. Cobden

said, that as his amendment was out of order, he would be content to divide on the amendment of the hon. Member for Dumfries.

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