§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer
, in moving the Resolutions of which he had given notice relative to the Sugar Duties, said, he felt bound to state to the House, in the first place, that in proposing the Resolutions which he then had to introduce for its consideration, it would not be necessary for him to enter into any lengthened statement with respect to the details of his present measure, inasmuch as the. House had already, on more occasions than one, and recently too, discussed and disposed of those points which were of the most material consequence in his proposition. They had decided that Foreign sugar the 239 produce of free labour should be admitted into this country on payment of a discriminating duty of 10s. 6d. per cwt. between it and the sugar of our own possessions. The only other point which had been raised on the present subject had been fully discussed on the Motion of his hon. Friend the Member for Beverley, with respect to the mode of ascertaining how those discriminating duties were to be levied, and the standard to be adopted, in classifying the different descriptions of sugar. It might, perhaps, be more advisable to postpone going into the details of these points until they were in Committee on the Bill; and, therefore, he considered it would be better to pass the Resolutions then before the House without, entering at length into those details. With respect to the introduction of the words "Sugar of quality equal to clayed," he could only observe that there might not be any objection; but the introduction of further words created a doubt in his mind that it would only involve them in greater difficulty. Having made some detailed inquiries with respect to the practice in London and the outports on the subject of the collection of this duty, and as to whether their project was likely to be successful in its operation, the Government did not consider that they were conclusive on this question; nor that the present proposed alteration in the duties would affect the Resolutions then before the House. But when they were in Committee he would bring before them the ultimate decision to which the Government should come, and be ready himself to answer any questions that might be put as to the details of the plan. With respect to the date at which the proposition was to take effect, he proposed that it should be from the 14th pf the present month of March; and that period would afford sufficient time, be conceived, to enable those who had sugar in bond to dispose of their stock. He concluded by moving the Resolutions.
said, he hoped the Chancellor of the Exchequer would consent to extend the time beyond the 14th of March. If he did not, he could assure him a great and ruinous loss would be sustained by thousands of persons who dealti[...]n sugar. He still trusted that the right hon. Gentleman would consent to extend the time to the 1st of April, or at least to the 25th of March.
§ Mr. Thornely
said, it was generally understood that he alteration would not 240 take place until the 5th of July, after the present Act expired. Only that morning he had received a communication from a very extensive dealer in Liverpool, who stated that he should lose 800l. on the stock he held, if the alteration were made so early as was intended. It was a great hardship, and he must ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider that point.
§ Mr. Hawes
thought, when a few facts were laid before it connected with the present matter, the House would see the propriety of modifying and altering the plan proposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, winch was full of hardship. The hon. Member read a letter from an eminent mercantile house in the City, in which the writer sought for himself, and on behalf of his trade, permission to clear off duty-paid stock before the right hon. Gentleman's plan came into operation. This writer declared that in the event of the Bill being carried, his house would lose to the amount of 2,000l. The house was one of the most respectable in the City of London. With regard to what had fallen from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he understood that he would pass his Resolutions through the Committee, reserving to himself the opportunity of stating his precise intention with regard to the duties. If he was still going to maintain the principle of a distinctive duty according to the quality, he was bound to say so to the House. If, on the other hand, the Chancellor of the Exchequer would admit there was a practical difficulty in the way of arriving at a satisfactory arrangement as to ascertaining the quality of the sugar, then he was bound to state the fact that they might know what they were to do. He did not know what course the hon. Member for Beverley (Mr. Hogg) intended to pursue; he seemed very acquiescent and satisfied. But the Government had attempted to make the duty dependent on quality before, and the attempt had entirely failed. Were they going to depart from this principle? If they were, he would give the Chancellor of the Exchequer all the time that he might require before he informed the House. But with respect to the collection or efficient imposition of such a duty of the distinctive character intended, he conceived that all former attempts of a similar kind had failed altogether. It was a description of duty which was at once unjust and open to fraud.
§ Mr. Thornely
said if it were possible to 241 provide all the quantity of sugar for the supply of the country from the port of London, then it would be practicable to arrive at a classification of the qualities of sugar. But as they imported sugar into the ports of Hull, Liverpool, Greenock, Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Belfast, he was persuaded that it was impossible. All experience went against it. The hon. Member for Beverley instanced a case where Mr. Huskisson attempted to classify the Sugar Duties, and it failed. Latterly it had been attempted to classify tea, since the opening of the China trade with this country. There was also the case of cotton wool—a duty of about 5–16ths of a penny per pound was substituted for an ad valorem duty, which it was found perfectly impracticable to carry out, because of the difficulty of ascertaining the exact value of the article, which varied from 3d. to 6d. per pound in worth.
§ Mr. Hogg
did not intend to take any part in the present discussion until he heard what the proposition of the Chancellor of the Exchequer exactly was. It appeared to him, however, that this proposed standard for the arrangement of the new scale of duties was an impracticable scheme; nor should he be perfectly satisfied until he heard what the proposition of the Government in all its details would exactly be.
§ Mr. Hawes
would ask the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he decidedly meant to adhere to his proposed scheme of distinctive duties? If so, he thought that subject very well worth the consideration of the House and the Government also; but it seemed to him that if they agreed to the present Resolutions, they might be supposed as sanctioning the principle of these distinctive duties. But, for his part, he meant to oppose that principle, and would take every possible opportunity of dividing the House upon the subject.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said, he was a little surprised at the observations which had just fallen from the hon. Member for Lambeth; because he understood that the general opinion of the House, expressed in the discussions of preceding evenings, had been that a full and ample inquiry into the practicability or expediency of this matter could not be made until the Government plan was before the House. It had been understood, as he conceived, that application was to be 242 made to brokers and other persons capable of giving information on this point, as to the best mode in which that measure was to be carried into effect; and that those details would be introduced when the Bill went into Committee, and the information collected had been submitted also for consideration. He could say that he had not himself by any means been backwards in making the necessary inquiries, and had been assiduously endeavouring to collect the best information and opinions on the subject, and that, too, from the best and most competent authorities. On that information he should act at the proper time. There were two objections, it appeared, to his present Resolutions; one was that the 14th of March was too early a date for them to come into operation; and the other was, that no provision was made for the purpose of returning the duty to those holders of stock in bond at the time the new Resolutions came into force, upon which stock duty had been already paid. These objections were grounded upon an alleged mistake said to be made—namely, that many parties were under the impression that no change was to take place in the Sugar Duties of last year until July, and that, consequently, they were taken by surprise by the present Government plan. Now, he could safely say there never was an occasion wherein the public and all interested had such ample and full notice of what the Government was about doing; for even in the course of the last Session of Parliament the course they intended pursuing had been announced. It had been intimated on that occasion that the Property Tax and the Sugar Duties would be brought under consideration in connexion with each other. Parties engaged in the sugar trade had received notice at the commencement of the Session that the Government contemplated an alteration in the duties, and those parties should not now feel aggrieved if the alteration were effected. It would be no trifling matter in cases like the present, where the public interests were at stake, to determine on granting drawbacks of duty. Some hon. Gentlemen said that they wished the favour should be limited to those parties who had purchased sugar which was still in the Government warehouses. But it did not appear to him that it would be consistent with justice that those who had left their stocks in the Government ware- 243 houses should be placed on a belief fooling than those who had transferred their sugar to their own stores. The only difference between the cases was, that with respect to the sugar left in the Queen's warehouses, the Government could put their hand upon it and ascertain its quantity. He should conclude by observing that in his opinion the stocks were at present much lower than usual, in consequence of the month's notice that had been given of the contemplated change in the duties; and he thought that there was, therefore, no sufficient reason for granting the proposed drawback.
§ Mr. Wallace
was prepared to state, that the alleged impression that an alteration of the Sugar Duties would take place was by no means general. It might not be well to press to a division the question, whether the 14th of March would be a sufficiently distant date; it could not yet be ascertained whether it would suffice for the remote parts of the Kingdom. The sugar refiners had no right to expect a change before the 5th of July.
§ Viscount Sandon
perfectly agreed with the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the wholesale grocers who had left their sugars in the Queen's warehouses were not more entitled to back duties than those who had them on their own premises; it was a mere accidental circumstance. But he thought that all the wholesale dealers who had paid duty had a claim on the consideration of Government. The prolongation of the time would, probably, be sufficient to enable the retail grocers to get rid of their stock—their customers must have sugar from day to day: but with the wholesale traders the consumption would be at a stand-still, for the retail grocers would not come to them except for trifling supplies, to last till the alteration of duties. The wholesale grocers, therefore, would gain nothing, or the merest trifle, by the postponement. They certainly had reason to expect the Sugar Duties would be dealt with in the course of this year, and very probably a large reduction made; but not so early in the year. It was a very great advantage to the country, that the financial scheme of the Session had been brought forward so early; but the country ought to be prepared to pay the price, in the shape of a sacrifice of some little revenue. It was well worth it for the sake of trade generally. An advantage would otherwise be gained in a way which he thought hardly fair, at the expense of private interests.
§ Sir W. Clay
thought a short extension of time might be given. As to the other point, if the whole question was to be regarded as under the consideration of Government, the House might properly leave it as was proposed; but Government would certainly find their proposed distinction impracticable. In America there was a classification, and the words of that tariff were,—"Brown sugar, the duty on importation of which is three cents per pound, is to include all Muscovado, all Havannah brown, all but the best white Brazil, all Calcutta sugar, all sugar from Canton, Siam, and Penang." The classification there bad almost become a dead letter, inasmuch as scarcely any sugar was excluded by the description of that which was admissible at the lower rate of duty.
§ Sir R. Peel
said, that when delay was asked in this matter it was not for the purpose of getting information to support the proposal of Government, but for the purpose of fair consideration; and if they found that proposal could not be carried into practice the fact should be fairly avowed. Government had asked the opinion of brokers on Saturday morning, and made other inquiries, and were not in a condition that night to pronounce a positive opinion; but at the same time hon. Members would see the great importance of passing the Sugar Duties before Easter. He did not wish to bind the House by passing the Resolution; nor would it be taken by surprise by his reserving the declaration of the opinion of Government till the House should be in Committee on the Bill, because a few days' notice of their intention should be given. As for drawing a distinction between the small retail dealer and the wholesale, he (Sir R. Peel) thought it could not be well done; nor, in fact, did he see any ground for it. It was very well to say that the retail dealer with his limited stock, would be able to get rid of it before the 14th of March, but that was not the fact; the consumers of sugar were, no doubt, hoarding whatever stock they had in hand, and their demand on the retail dealer would be very limited. The substitutes in use for sugar would be extensively called for, but sugar itself would not be greatly in demand in the meantime; the retail dealer, therefore, would have the same difficulty in getting rid of his stock as the wholesale. Parties must be subjected to inconvenience, and it must be admitted that it bore hardly in many cases; but it was the general rule, and Parliament 245 would not forego the privilege of doing great public good, although it might foresee the possibility of particular inconvenience. If they attempted to make this special distinction between retail and wholesale dealers, they would find many cases wherein the retail dealers in country towns would say what the wholesale dealer was saying—that they never foresaw this alteration, and, therefore, ought to have an allowance.
§ Mr. Labouchere
, referring to the declaration of the Government, that they were disposed to look thoroughly and completely into the question of the possibility and propriety of a classification of sugar before pledging themselves or the House upon the principle, observed, that it was a most important and most difficult question. Originally he approached that discussion with a disposition to believe a classification the best course to be adopted; forming that opinion very much upon the knowledge that it was the sentiment of a gentleman to whose authority, while he was living, the greatest weight was always attached—Mr. J. D. Hume; but then that gentleman did not contemplate a distinction between slave-labour Foreign sugar and free-labour Foreign sugar, and his principle for desiring a further classification was to meet the case of the fine while sugar of the Havannah, which, although not (technically speaking) refined sugar, approached near to it. He (Mr. Labouchere), as this discussion had gone on, had become very strongly impressed with the extreme difficulty of the distinction in practice while an unsuccessful attempt would produce very great inconvenience. He understood the Government did not wish to give any peculiar advantage to the West India sugars over East India beyond what the sugars might merit; that the principle of legislation should be a bonâ fide equality between sugars the produce of all the Colonial possessions of this country. He understood also that the Government disclaimed any intention, under cover of a classification of sugars, at all to aggravate or increase the protection afforded upon the face of this measure to Colonial sugar, as distinguished from free-labour Foreign sugar. He did hope, that if the Government, looking fairly at this question, found that either of the two effects thus disclaimed as intended by them would be produced, they would frankly give up the attempt at classification. He (Mr. Labouchere) would confess, that even then he 246 was not able to express any decided opinion upon the subject; it had been felt to be embarrassing by every Government which had had to deal with Sugar Duties; but the Minister ought to be prepared with a very clear answer to the objections made, and to support their decision by the testimony of competent practical persons who could tell how the system would work, not only in London, but in other outports, before they asked the House to agree to a measure which might have an effect disclaimed by themselves, and not desired by the House. As to the question of drawbacks, he agreed in their inexpediency upon general principles, when a change of duties might act unfavourably upon the interests of individuals: the practice of late years was the best—that of letting all run their chance, and forming their own opinions of probable alterations of duties. But the sugar trade was placed in a peculiar position by the early period at which the subject was brought forward. There was, he supposed, no precedent of Parliament passing a rate of duties for a year, and then anticipating the period for changing that scale by several months; such a course must take the trade by surprise, and he should be very glad if this hardship upon respectable traders could be alleviated. He confessed that he did not think it would be expedient to name a more distant day than had been fixed for the duties commencing; the injury resulting from a longer suspension would more than counterbalance the individual saving; but it was well worthy of consideration, whether some relief in the shape of drawback upon stock still in bond could not be afforded to the great wholesale dealers. He did not think that persons interested in the sugar trade had any right to suppose that Parliament would alter the Sugar Duties at such an unusual period of the year.
§ Mr. Milner Gibson
thought a very strong case for postponement of the consideration of these duties had been made on both sides of the House. His right hon. Friend who preceded him wished that time should be given to traders to get rid of their stock of sugars, and the right hon. Baronet at the head of Her Majesty's Government wished to get time for reconsidering his measures. It was plain, therefore, that a postponement of the question should take place, and the House could not advance until they saw which way they would have to go. It appeared to some individuals well acquainted with the subject, that the 247 Resolutions which were submitted to the House by Her Majesty's Government were wholly impracticable; and the right hon. Baronet opposite did not tell them that night that they were practicable, but merely that he would inquire whether they were so or not. Under such circumstances, and viewing the feeling expressed on both sides of the House, it was evidently desirable that a postponement should take place. He had himself received letters from some of his constituents, stating, that of all visionary plans ever heard of in legislation, that proposed by the right hon. Baronet with respect to the Sugar Duties was the most visionary—that it was quite impossible to form a classification such as was proposed, or to adopt an ad valorem duty which would prevent fraud. It was even hinted at by some, that the Custom-house officers were not possessed of that Roman virtue which would render them proof against the temptation of fees or bribes, on occasions when it might be desired to get sugars of a superior quality admitted at the lower duties. He believed the right hon. Baronet would also agree with him in thinking, that if there was any authority in such matters worse than another, it was that of a Custom-house officer. When such a man was asked, "Could he discriminate in all cases between white clayed, brown, and Mucovado sugars?" he would say to himself, "Perhaps I may be promoted to the office of Surveyor of sugars," and with that idea in his mind, his reply would be, "To be sure, I can;" and the evidence to be procured in such quarters was, therefore, the most unsafe on which the right hon. Baronet could have possibly relied.
said, he should confess he did not agree with the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, that it was desirable a postponement of the question should take place. In his opinion the public Revenue would lose from 50,000l. to 100,000l. in every week that the question remained undecided, and though that consideration would be but a very trifling matter compared to the annoyance of any obstruction to trade, still it was not to be entirely lost sight of. He would grant that the case of the refiners was one of considerable importance, and that the circumstance of the Government bringing forward the Sugar Duties at so very early a period of the year would affect their business; but still it was, in his opinion, a question whether the refiners would 248 not suffer as much under the position in which the matter rested, by the Government postponing the Sugar Duties to the period of the Session when they were usually brought on, as they could by having them decided at the present time. If, instead of having the question of the Sugar Duties brought under consideration in the middle of February, it had been postponed until the middle of June, the period of the year when the subject was usually brought forward, what would have been the result? Certainly not that a state of confidence would be imparted to the sugar market, but, on the contrary, it was much more likely that a stagnation would take place which would be much more injurious to the sugar refiners than any result that could follow from a decision on the matter at the present moment; for, after the excitement of last year, there could scarcely be a doubt but that every one would have looked forward to a reduction in the duties in the present Session. But even though the trade should suffer a loss at present, it ought not to be forgotten that there would be considerable compensation given. It was impossible that the consumer could get the entire benefit of the reduction immediately. The sugars affected by the new duties would have to pass through the hands of a large class of traders, and it was only by these gradually bringing down one another's prices, that the full benefit of the reduction would at length reach the consumers. He did not think, therefore, that there was anything in the present matter that could render it safe for the Government to depart from the usual course, and in fact, as far as he was concerned, he could not conceive any possible case in which it would be desirable that a postponement in the operation of Customs' Duties should take place. The hon. Member for Lambeth had pressed forward for a postponement of the operation of the new Timber Duties in 1842, in order that the trade might get rid of their stock. The case of timber was certainly a very hard one, because the stock on hand was much larger than it could be in almost any other article, and because a longer time would be required to get rid of it; but he should at the same time much question whether the course then taken had proved beneficial for the trade. With regard to the question of classification, it appeared to be the general feeling in the House, that it was one to be considered in Committee, and that no step ought to be taken upon it at pre- 249 sent. While he would act upon that view he could not avoid expressing a wish that the House should guard itself against the notion, that because they had no system of classification before them at present by which they could fix the relative qualities of Java, Muscovado, and Havannah sugars, that therefore the matter was impracticable. The present system had the most injurious effects upon the improvement of sugar. By having no understood distinction except refined and unrefined sugar, the manufacturers were prevented from improving their sugars to a higher quality, lest they should be charged for as refined sugars, and thus many practicable improvements of great value were entirely neglected. He was not speaking on this question as a mere theory. He could mention as a practical instance of the fact, that parties with whom he was connected had imported sugars of an improved quality from the West Indies, and the Custom-house authorities fixed a value of eight guineas per cwt. upon them. The owners were in consequence obliged to send them to the Continent, because they would not be admitted into this country as Muscovado sugars, and the value fixed upon them by the Custom-house officers acted as a complete prohibition. The effect of such a system was to keep down all improvement in the manufacture of sugar, both in the East and West Indies, and the proposed system of classification would therefore be attended with very beneficial results. It was quite impossible that they could, as stated by the hon. Member for Lambeth, have any bread line to distinguish different classes of sugar, and that they could say all sugars of a certain kind are to be placed upon one side of it, and all other sugars upon the other side. They were not to have one duty for refined sugars and another duty for unrefined sugars—and he admitted that if such a plan were practicable, the system of classification would be very easy; but it was well known in practice that the different qualities of sugar ascended by imperceptible degrees from the very lowest kinds up to the best double refined sugar. They could not, then, continue the system on which they now stood. They might adopt either of two plans. They might introduce a certain number of classes, each to pay a fixed rate of duty, or they might abolish all classification whatever, and fix a certain duty per pound for all sugars. If they adopted the latter plan, they would, he admitted, have an intelli- 250 gible system, under which no person could go astray; but he certainly did not expect that the House would pledge themselves to any such course, and in that case the other mode which he had mentioned was the only one open to them. A great deal had been said about the impracticability of any system of classification; but in a letter which he had received that morning from a gentleman who was connected with the United States, the writer expressed his surprise at the objections which were raised to the Government proposition, and stated that he had been for many years familiar with the sugar trade in the United States, where the system of classification was acted upon, and that he had never known any difficulty whatever to arise in practice under it. He should again repeat that any expectation of succeeding with a simple division of sugars into refined and unrefined sugars must prove perfectly hopeless. If they had no intermediate class of duties between 14s. and 18s. 8d., any slightly improved quality of sugars, which would not be admitted at the lower duty, and for which it would not be worth while to pay the higher duty, would be kept away; but by adopting an intermediate duty of 16s. 4d., the manufacturer would be no longer deterred from improving the inferior quality of sugar, and sending it into the market at the risk of having to pay an additional duty of 2s. 4d. a cwt.
§ Mr. Hawes
said, the right hon. Gentleman commenced his speech by saying that it was an understanding in the House that no discussion as to classification was at present to take place, and yet he had entered into a long though not a very convincing statement on the subject. He (Mr. Hawes) felt that it was therefore open to him to follow the right hon. Gentleman through the same topics; but he would not avail himself of his right, as he thought it better to wait until they had the whole proposition of the Government respecting classification before them. This much, however, he should say, that the right hon. Gentleman had convinced him, and he believed the majority of hon. Gentlemen behind him, that the proposed alteration of the duties on sugars, according to their different qualities, was almost impossible. The right hon. Gentleman admitted that if there was no distinction in duties there would be no difficulty in the matter whatever, and the onus therefore lay with the Government to show why they could not do away with these distinctions altogether. The plan of 251 the Government, in fact, held out a premium to the importation of articles of inferior manufacture. It went on the old principle of all their legislation—namely, that of legislating for protected interests. But the right hon. Baronet was gradually and steadily bringing the industry of the manufacturers of this country into direct competition with the manufacturers of Foreign countries in other instances, and they all undoubtedly on that (the Opposition) side of the House acknowledged the soundness of that principle. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladsone) said that postponement of the question would cause a loss to the Revenue of 50,000l. or 100,000l. a week. That was certainly rather a loose way of computation, and he begged to deny the truth of it altogether. But the right hon. Gentleman said a postponement would cause a stagnation of trade. If the right hon. Gentleman thought so, why did he and the Government not consent to a settlement of the question last year? He thought the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) and the Chancellor of the Exchequer had put the matter in a fair way before the House. They had stated that the inquiry, for which they demanded time, was not required to support their own views, but to enable them to consider the whole question, and that if the result out weighed their present impressions they would abandon them, and have no hesitation in altering their opinions. He thought the House ought not to offer any opposition to an inquiry asked for in that fair spirit, and he would, therefore, support the proposition for a postponement of the question.
§ Sir Robert Peel
begged to remind the House and the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken of the terms on which the postponement had been asked for. He had already stated that he would not require the House to go suddenly into Committee on the Bill. On Mr. Greene's taking the chair, be (Sir Robert Feel) would announce his intentions on the matter to the House, and then give two days' notice of the discussion, so that all parties could be prepared fully to enter into it.
confessed his ignorance of much of the distictions that were drawn between different qualities of sugar, and said he would be glad if the right hon. Baronet had told the House what was meant by Muscovado sugar.
§ Sir Robert Peel
said, if the hon. Gentleman had applied to any person having 252 the slightest knowledge of the sugar trade he would get a much better explanation than any he (Sir Robert Peel) could give of the difference between clayed and Muscovado sugars.
§ Lord John Russell
said, an observation had been made by his right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton with respect to what had passed on a former night respecting Colonial and East India sugars. He could not but remember that the right hon. Baronet, when originally bringing forward his plan, had stated that 70,000 tons was the exact quantity which be expected to have imported from the East Indies, and that all that quantity would be liable to the higher duty. He thought the intentions of the Government ought to be known on that subject, as after what had followed in 1836, any intentions with respect to their interference with the East India interests should be distinctly understood.
§ Viscount Sandon
expressed a hope that the House would be cautious in coming to any decision which might place the West India interests in a disadvantageous position. Any relief which would be merely advantageous to labour would be unjust towards the West India interests, in consequence of the great scarcity of labour in that quarter; and he trusted, therefore, that the House and the Government would not lose sight of that circumstance in any decision to which they might come. He also hoped that they would not forget the charge which formed so favourite a topic with the speakers at popular assemblies, that the Parliament were in the habit of unjustly taxing articles which were consumed exclusively by the poor. For instance, it was alleged that a duty of 200 per cent, was placed upon the inferior qualities of teas, while the duty on teas consumed by the wealthy was but 50 per cent.; and he hoped these complaints would not receive a new stimulus by the House giving unfair advantages to the finer and more expensive qualities of sugar.
§ Mr. Bouverie
thought the demand made in favour of the traders should not be refused. The question was simply one of justice. The parties who were engaged in trade paid the duty merely in advance for the country, and by immediately bringing the system of reduced duties into operation, they prevented those parties from recovering the advance which they had thus made. The Government were, in his opinion, bound in common justice to allow them a drawback on the duty paid for the sugars now on 253 hand. The right hon. Baronet the First Lord of the Treasury said, there was no distinction in principle between the wholesale sugar merchants and the retail dealers throughout the country. He admitted the truth of that allegation; but the inference which he drew from it was, that the retail dealer was also entitled to receive a drawback.
§ Mr. Borthwick
thought the measure on the Table exceedingly just and equitable, and one which he could see no difficulty in carrying out in practice. He also thought that a protection was due to the West India proprietors after the great experiment in the labour market of which they had been made the victims.
thought that it would be much better to postpone the consideration of the Resolutions until the Government had made up their minds as to the classification. From his experience of Custom-house officers and this trade, he could state without hesitation, that the plan of discrimination suggested in the Resolutions was perfectly impracticable, as it would lead to endless disputes. He would not then open the question which was so ably brought forward a few nights ago by the hon. Member for Beverley; but he would merely observe that he trusted that the Government, on reflection, would consent to have only one certain duty on Colonial sugars. This would be a great step towards the simplification of the Custom-house duties, with respect to which the right hon. Baronet had already done so much, and proposed to do so much more during the present Session.
§ Sir J. R. Reid
would take that opportunity of thanking; the Government, on the part of the West Indian interest, for this measure. He was glad to find that the discussion of the evening had been carried on in such a spirit of fairness. All that the West Indies asked, after the long period of depression under which they had laboured, was fair play: and if they had this, and had facilities afforded for obtaining labour, they would produce sugar abundantly sufficient. There was one point which he was particularly anxious to press upon the Government; namely, that it was most desirable that the duties should be as nearly as possible permanent. At any rate they should be of such a character as to lead to the inference that there would be no alteration in them for some time; for one of the great grounds of complaint with the West Indian body was the 254 want of certainty in the legislation affecting them.
§ Mr. C. Wood
suggested another reason for postponing the further consideration of the subject; namely, that time might be afforded to the right hon. Gentleman to make further inquiries as to the correctness of the estimates of the different qualities of sugar, which would be introduced under this plan. It had been stated that out of the 70,000 tons which it was estimated would be introduced from the East Indies, a much larger proportion than was estimated by the right hon. Baronet would be introduced at the lower range of duties. The consequence would be a loss to the Revenue of about 200,000l. If, upon inquiry, the Government were obliged to abandon the principle of classification, they would lose the 2s. 4d. duty upon the class of white clayed sugars; and this, as he had observed, would amount to about 200,000l. The right hon. Gentleman should be cautious upon proceeding, at the risk of entailing such a loss upon the Revenue. Let him not forget that he could not recover this loss by augmenting the duties in a Committee of Ways and Means. Of course, by postponing the further consideration of the subject for a few days, the right hon. Gentleman would not be pledged to any particular course.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said, that if the Resolutions were now passed, the House, on resuming the consideration of the subject on a subsequent day, if the inquiries to be instituted by Government were favourable to the plan as it stood, would be in a situation to expedite the progress of the Bill. But he would not object to postpone the further consideration of the Resolutions to a future day, on the understanding that the question should then be disposed of, and the Bill should be allowed to go through its various stages with all possible expedition, so that it might come into operation as early as possible. He would, therefore, feel no objection to the course proposed by the hon. Member for Halifax, on these conditions:—first, that by consenting to the postponement of the Resolutions he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) did not give any pledge as to the abandonment of these Resolutions as they at present stood; and, secondly, on a general understanding that the discussion should be taken on the Resolutions as proposed, and that if they were agreed to, no impediment should be opposed to the progress of the Bill. If he understood 255 this to be the feeling of the House he would assent to a postponement; but hon. Gentlemen were aware that this was a question involving great practical difficulties, and that the Government were most anxious to expedite the measure.
§ Lord John Russell
thought that the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman was perfectly fair. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would give some notice of the course which he intended to take. He would not suggest two days' notice; but probably the right hon. Gentleman would, on Thursday, be able to give some explanation of the course he intended to take on Friday.
§ Mr. Parker
observed, that if this plan had been adopted at the usual time of passing the Sugar Duties, he should not have urged a drawback; but as it had been brought forward several months before the Sugar Duties were usually adopted, the sugar refiners and other extensive dealers would not have calculated on such a change; it would, therefore, he attended with great injustice to those who had large stocks on hand.
§ Mr. Hume
hoped that on Friday the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be able to state to what extent the Government was prepared to allow a drawback, or at any rate to postpone his plan coming into operation. It would be a very great hardship on the dealers if they did not allow them a drawback for the stocks which they had on hand, which they had taken out of the Queen's warehouses. He was glad that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had acceded to delay the further consideration until Friday. He also thought that the observation of the hon. Baronet the Member for Dover was well worthy the attention of the House. The Government should make up their minds as to the duration of these protective duties. He was satisfied in his own mind that they would not be permanently continued; but the Government should at once state that they proposed them for a certain period, say for three, four, or five years. There was such uncertainty at the present moment, that no one would advance capital for the purpose of sugar cultivation. They might obtain an enormous supply of sugar from the East Indies, but not a shilling of additional capital, as he believed, had been embarked in the cultivation of sugar there, in consequence of the uncertainty which prevailed. They, therefore, should at once say that they intended the 256 present plan to last for a certain time, and it would be seen that persons would at once embark capital. He hoped this subject would also engage the attention of the Government before Friday.
§ Sir J. R. Reid
observed, that this was certainly the most sensible speech that he had ever heard from the hon. Member, and he was gratified that anything that had fallen from him had been the means of eliciting it.
§ Mr. Thornely
hoped that the House of Commons would never consent to a permanent scale of duties until there was perfect equality, and all protection had been got rid of. He was surprised that his hon. Friend the Member for Montrose should set aside the interests of the consumer. They talked of West Indian and East Indian interest, but he called upon them to look to the interest of the people at large. His chief object, however, in rising was to urge on the Chancellor of the Exchequer the propriety of reducing the proposed amount of duty on candy from Foreign countries. It was probable that no sugar could be obtained from China, but they could procure large quantities of candy, and he need hardly impress upon the right hon. Gentleman the desirableness of increasing as much as possible the number of articles to be imported into this country from China.
§ Mr. Hume
must express his surprise at the observation of his hon. Friend, as he had not said one word as to the permanence of the protective duty. His observation was directed for the benefit of the consumers of sugar. At the present moment the cultivation of sugar was not carried to the extent that it might be, in consequence of capitalists not being willing to embark in it on account of the uncertainty. All that he said was, fix the present plan for a limited period, either two, three, or four years, and this would induce an increased cultivation of sugar in the East Indies, and by this means the price would be reduced. He was as little in favour of protection as his hon. Friend, as he was anxious that sugar from all places should be admitted on a footing of equality.
§ Mr. W. Williams
could not conceive how the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer could justify the serious loss which his measure, in its present form, would entail upon the holders of sugar. He thought there should be some extension of the time at which the measure was to come 257 into operation, with a view to mitigate the loss of those individuals who had large stocks of sugar on hand. If the period for bringing this measure into operation were delayed to the full extent required by those parties, their loss must still be very great, for a considerable reduction in the price of sugar had already taken place; but certainly Government ought to do all in their power to make that loss as light as possible. He believed that if the right hon. Gentleman would extend the time to the 5th of April, such a course would give general satisfaction to the dealers throughout the country. If the right hon. Gentleman would not consent to such an extension, he (Mr. Williams) should feel it his duty to take the sense of the House on the subject, and he would also offer all the opposition in his power to the progress of the Bill.
§ Dr. Bowring
felt some alarm at the speech of the hon. Member for Montrose, especially as he remembered the compliment which had been paid to that hon. Gentleman a few nights since by the right hon. Baronet opposite. He must say that he thought the hon. Member (Mr. Hume) had evinced too little regard for the great and paramount interests of the consumers.
§ The Chairman was ordered to report progress.
§ The House resumed. The Committee to sit again.
§ House adjourned at eight o'clock.