HC Deb 15 August 1846 vol 88 cc738-47

On the Question, that the British Possessions Bill be read a Third Time,


said, that in consequence of what fell from the hon. Members for Cambridge and Birmingham when this Bill was last before the House, he should propose such words as Amendments in the Bill as would meet the objections raised, and prevent the colonial legislatures from laying unfair duties on British produce and manufactures.


rose to move, that the Bill be read a third time that day three months. The effect of this Bill would be to take away the monopoly that, up to the present time, the manufactures and produce of Great Britain had enjoyed in the British Colonies. It would also altogether overturn the colonial system of this country, which had consisted in defraying colonial expenses by the monopoly of trade which her subjects had enjoyed with the Colonics. If the present Bill passed, the first act of the British colonial legislatures would be to do away with all differential duties. The effect of the recent free-trade measures had not been such as to afford the House much encouragement to proceed in the same course. The passing of the Corn Bill, and the prospect of the passing of the Sugar Bill, had not appeared to have secured the prosperity of the manufacturers, as they were told. At Oldham, Stockport, Ashton, Dukinfield, and in some places in Yorkshire, the master manufacturers had already given notice to their workmen of a reduction of five per cent in their wages, telling them that as food was cheaper, they could afford to work follower wages. The effect of the recent free-trade measures upon Manchester was described in a circular by Messrs. Gibson and Ord, who stated that there had never been so dull a month as that which had just passed. And this was the state of things notwithstanding the fine harvest throughout the country. It was not at all improbable that the farmers, seeing the price of wheat rapidly falling to 40s. a quarter, would forbear to purchase any manufactures until they saw whether they could afford to pay for them. From Canada the accounts were, that all kinds of produce, but particularly flour and timber, had fallen in value; and he knew that a house had recalled an order for 100,000l. worth of dry goods to be sent to the Canadas, in consequence of the passing of the recent measures. Such was the consequence of their free-trade measures in Canada. Under these circumstances, the manufacturers could ill afford to lose the monopoly of the colonial market, which they now enjoyed, and the House ought to pause before they read a third time a Bill so important, and introduced, too, at so late a period of the Session. The Bill was only printed on the 11th of August, and the House was now asked on the 15th to read it a third time, and pass it. At present half the House were gone to the moors, and another fourth were gone to the Continent. Only about fifty or sixty Members remained to legislate on a Bill of too much importance to pass in such a House. The noble Lord at the head of the Government once said, and well said, that this country could not bear to have a revolution once a year. At present, however, they had a revolution once a week. The consequence of passing this Bill would ultimately be to abolish the navigation laws. Let the shipping interest know that the hon. Member for Durham cheered that statement, and that it was the intention of the manufacturers of England to do away with the navigation laws. Let the British shipowners and merchants consider the low rate at which the Danes, the Swedes, the Prussians, and even the Americans, could navigate their vessels, and let them understand that the manufacturers of England intended to be merchants also, and employ the cheapest vessels they could find. He considered that he should be wanting in his duty to all the great interests concerned if he forbore to oppose the Bill, and he accordingly moved that it be read a third time that day three months.


said, his noble Friend had told the House that half the Members were gone to the moors, and he had certainly been in hopes that his noble Friend would have been among that party. If his noble Friend were enjoying himself in shooting at this time of the year, he should be better pleased; but as his noble Friend remained in the House, he should be obliged to repeat to him the general principles on which the measure rested. His noble Friend was convinced that protection ought to be kept up for the producers of sugar, and that they ought to be entitled to differential duties as against all other producers. His noble Friend had failed in his attempt to bring the House over to his views; a majority of 130 had voted against him; and he saw by the Votes of the other House that there were only ten Members of the House of Peers who appeared to have opposed the Sugar Duties Bill. Parliament, therefore, was about to assent to an Act which, by a gradation of duties, would, at the end of five years, take away all protection from the sugar-producing Colonies of this country. The colonists might, therefore, fairly urge that Parliament ought to give them also the benefit of free-trade principles, and not expose them to the disadvantage of protection, if they were not to receive its advantages. It followed that if Parliament said the manufacturing and agricultural part of the population had a right to consume the cheapest sugar they could get, the Colonies were also entitled to have their provisions and manufactures at as cheap a rate as they could be obtained. He would not now go into the question raised by his noble Friend, and discuss the policy of the navigation laws. If it were a mere question how the wealth of a country could best be promoted and distributed, then all the authorities, from Adam Smith downwards, established that the principles of free trade were undeniable and irrefragable, and ought to obtain. But, if a case were made out on any particular subject, that another principle than that of free trade ought to prevail, then Parliament ought to give that subject due consideration. If his noble Friend had succeeded in proving that sugar ought to be an exception to the adoption of free-trade principles, that would be an answer to the application of those principles. But he had failed to make that out. So as to the navigation laws. If it were a mere question of the production and distribution of wealth, then he thought everybody ought to be allowed to use the ships he thought best. But then arose the consideration of the naval defence of this country, and its naval su- premacy, and it became a question whether these might not be endangered by a change in the navigation laws. Into that question he would not now enter. In other respects all the protective theories had been proved to be unfounded, and there was no ground for saying that the West Indies ought to be deprived of the power to obtain their provisions and manufactures at the cheapest rate.


had intended, if he had caught the Speaker's eye, to move that the Bill be recommitted. He should now vote in favour of the Motion of the noble Lord, that the Bill be read a third time that day three months. He considered that the power which would be given to our colonists by this Bill was likely to involve us in disputes with foreign nations, against whom differential duties might be established by the colonial legislatures. Although he was of opinion that the principle of protection to native industry ought never to have been abandoned, yet as they had adopted the principles of free trade, he thought those principles ought now to be carried out to their fullest extent; and he therefore did not oppose the Bill on the ground that it removed protection. The noble Lord the Member for Lynn had said, that the manufacturers of this country had no wish to retain the navigation laws; but he could assure the noble Lord that the manufacturers were fully aware of the importance of maintaining our navy in a state of efficiency. He thought that the navigation laws should not be considered merely as a matter of wealth and commerce, but as connected with the safety and honour of the country. The effect of this Bill would be to enable the colonial legislatures to alter the rate of duties in such a manner as practically to create a monopoly against this country. He considered that the West Indian colonists should be allowed to import provisions and manufactures at as cheap a rate as possible; but he did not think they ought to be entrusted with the power of imposing differential duties, which might enable them to establish a monopoly against the mother country.


said, perhaps the noble Lord the Member for Lynn had been down in the manufacturing districts, and he had there picked up the information with which he had to-day favoured the House. He (Mr. Bright) fancied, however, if the real secret were known how the noble Lord had obtained his information, it would be found that he had derived it from the co- lumns of the Standard newspaper. The noble Lord had stated, that in some parts of Lancashire, Cheshire, and Yorkshire—at Oldham, Stockport, Dukinfield, and other places, wages were falling; and that the reason given by the masters for a reduction was, that there had been a fall in the price of food. He had some acquaintance with the district to which the noble Lord had referred, and he could state his belief that there was no manufacturer within twenty miles of Manchester so lamentably ignorant on the subject as to make such a statement to his workmen. He had seen a paragraph in the newspapers on this subject. He believed the statement to be totally false; and he had never been able to discover any other foundation for it than that which was frequently the foundation of newspaper paragraphs—the very lively imagination of the editors. He believed that at no time within the memory of the oldest man in the district to which he had referred, had the population over been more fully employed, or enjoyed greater physical comforts, than at this moment. The price of food was now low, and there was an abundant demand for labour. It was true that the state of trade was not so satisfactory as it might be. The noble Lord would admit, however, that during the existence of the Corn Laws, trade had frequently been in a state of great depression; and no advocate for the repeal of the Corn Laws had ever imagined that that measure would effect an immediate revolution in the state of trade. The noble Lord seemed to think it was no matter of wonder that trade should be bad, because the low price of corn prevented the agriculturists from purchasing manufactures. But how did it happen that trade was in so good a state in 1835 and 1836, when the price of corn did not average 40s. a quarter? If the farmers were able to purchase manufactured goods when corn was at 36s., surely they were able to purchase now. He believed that the agricultural population were now in as satisfactory a position, and were able to obtain as large a supply of the comforts of life, as at any former period. The noble Lord seemed to flatter himself that a feeling of regret was entertained throughout the country at the repeal of the Corn Laws. He believed, on the contrary, that there was an almost unanimous feeling of acquiescence in the principles which had been adopted by the late and by the present Government. He (Mr. Bright) had cheered the noble Lord during his reference to the navigation laws, because he believed the principle which had been carried out with regard to corn and sugar, must eventually be applied to shipping. He (Mr. Bright) believed the shipowners would admit that, while the navigation laws had been a great hindrance to trade, they had failed to afford protection to the British shipowner. The noble Lord had said, that the past and present measures of the Government would create a panic in Canada; but, in his opinion, there could be few persons in Canada, except those who were very easily frightened, who could entertain any fears as to the ultimate result of these measures. The hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Spooner) anticipated that this Bill would occasion disputes between foreign countries and our own. He did not think that the colonists would embroil us in any such quarrels; and he was much gratified that this Bill had been introduced.


considered that the hon. Member for Birmingham had not established any real and substantial objections against this Bill. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Spooner) had stated, that, if this measure in its present shape was sanctioned by Parliament, the colonists would be able to impose discriminating duties against British goods; but the Chancellor of the Exchequer had expressed his readiness to introduce words to guard against that contingent mischief. He (Mr. Bernal) supported the Bill, because, as the colonists had been deprived of protection, he thought they ought to participate in all the advantages of free trade.


considered that the Bill would not confer any great boon on the colonists, but that it would place a very objectionable power in their hands of establishing differential duties against the mother country. He thought that a measure of this nature ought not to be brought forward at this advanced period of the Session, when scarcely any Members of the Legislature, except the immediate Members of the Government, were enabled to express their opinions upon it.


said, this Bill was a more immediate and portentous confirmation of his apprehensions of the gradual subversion of the colonial system, than he could have expected. That it would destroy the uniformity which ought to subsist in the commercial regulations of the Empire, under the paramount and exclusive authority of the Imperial Par- liaments, and lead to constant and angry conflicts between the colonial legislatures and executives, and to frequent collisions between the colonial and imperial Parliaments. He had stated that the repeal of protection from the Colonies would, for all purposes of commerce, necessarily convert them into foreign States—that far from treating the Colonies as integral parts of the Empire, they would thus be placed in a middle state between the colonial and the foreign State, without having the advantages of either, in many important respects. We had withdrawn protection from the Colonies, and as a compensation for the loss of protection, proposed to give them leave to trade with all the world; but no foreign State would free trade with them, as British Colonies; and hence the disadvantageous position in which they were placed. He had received numerous communications on this subject from all those Colonics to which intelligence of the recent change had reached. He would not at present refer to these, but might on a future occasion call the attention of Parliament to this most important subject. In the mean time he might say, that, so far, the extinction of protection had produced very great dissatisfaction in Canada, and in British North America in general; and that very large concessions, extremely prejudicial to British interests, must be made, to endeavour to compensate for the injury which the withdrawal of protection must occasion. He had observed on a former occasion, that having converted the Colonies into commercial independence by allowing them to regulate their own commercial affairs, and these important possessions consequently not contributing more to British interests, as British markets, than if independent States, it would be a question of time, and of money, how long political connexion would survive commercial independence, however loyal and attached the people of British origin in Canada might be. Little did he think that the economic objection to pay for the defence or other expenses of the Colonies would be made so soon. But the great economist, the hon. Member for Montrose, had just observed, that having conceded to the Colonies the management of their own commercial affairs, and allowed them to have free trade with all the world, we should call upon them to pay all their own expenses. The first effect of these measures on the Colonies, and on Canada in particular, would be to place them in great financial difficulties, by the repeal of duties on foreign importations—an alternative to which they must resort as a consequence of withdrawing protection from their productions in the British markets. About four-sevenths of the revenue of Canada were derived from the duties on imports. The repeal of the corn duties, and of those on tea, sugar, leathers, and many others, would produce very great defalcations in the revenue; and it appeared that this was already sensibly felt. The serious consequences of these measures could not be more strongly shown than by the concessions already demanded as compensation for the advantages of which they had been deprived. From what he had heard, he believed it would be required, that the interest of the debt contracted for effecting internal improvements in the Canadas, should be remitted, or paid by the mother country: that the Canadas should be allowed to regulate wholly their commercial affairs independently of the mother country: that all duties on the importation of Canadian produce of every description into the United Kingdom should be absolutely repealed: that the navigation laws should be modified, and the navigation of the river St. Lawrence thrown open, to all foreign vessels. Thus, the next step, as they now distinctly saw and heard, was the abrogation or repeal of those laws, upon maintaining which the maritime power of this country depended. The hon. and gallant Officer adverted at some length to some details to show that, under the system of responsible government, and the powers conferred on local legislatures by this Bill, such alterations would be made in the scale of duties as would give great umbrage to foreign countries, and involve the mother country in serious difficulties and conflicts. He regarded this measure as the first step towards relaxations and anomalies in the commercial system and regulations of this country, which would ultimately deprive the Imperial Parliament of that control over the commercial affairs of the Colonics which he was prepared to show was indispensable to the maintenance of the colonial empire; and he, therefore, felt it his duty to record his opposition to this Bill.


considered that the adoption of this Bill would involve the relinquishment by that House of the supremacy which it now exercised over our colonial dependencies.


thought the Bill a most important one as an infraction of principle; and by it the House abdicated its authority, in a measure, with regard to the Colonies. He thought the House would be justified in not consenting to accede to the measure. In looking to the principle that they were about to infringe, they ought to consider those upon whom the recent alteration in the Corn Laws would take greatest effect. He hoped the Government, at this late period of the Session, would not press a measure which would involve such a wide departure from all colonial principles.

On the Question, that the word "now" stand part of the Question,


conceived that the Bill was, under the circumstances of the case, quite proper, and not in itself of that importance which the opposition of the noble Lord the Member for Lynn would indicate. However, the opposition of the noble Lord imparted more importance to it. He referred to an after-dinner speech which the noble Lord had delivered either at a banquet at which the Duke of Rutland was present, or some other banquet, observing that that speech had given the noble Lord a power which he had not hitherto possessed; and in the present political state of parties in the country, the noble Lord's support of, or opposition to, any measure became important. The noble Lord's power had also been increased by the conduct of the Government within the last fortnight; but he would at present say no more on this point, because Tuesday would be the proper time to enter on the discussion. [The hon. Member was understood to allude to the Irish Arms Bill, which is fixed for discussion on Tuesday next.] The noble Lord had said that he would not fight a sham battle on behalf of the Colonies; but his Friends in another place had been doing so; and the people of England knew it was a sham fight from first to last in favour of that colonial protection which was well known now to be utterly untenable in principle.


did not mean to state that in some future Session it might not be necessary to regulate the colonial trade by an Imperial Act; but when it was said, that this Bill violated a sacred principle, and that the British Constitution was sacrificed by it, he begged to remind the House that this sacred principle was only of twenty years' standing.

House divided:—Ayes 47; Noes 8: Majority 39.

List of the AYES.
Arundel and Surrey, Earl of Jervis, Sir J.
Labouchere, rt. hon. H.
Berkeley, hon. Capt. Macaulay, rt. hon. T. B.
Bernal, R. Maule, rt. hon. F.
Borthwick, P. Milnes, R. M.
Bright, J. Morpeth, Visct.
Brown, W. Morris, D.
Buller, C. O'Conor Don
Byng, rt. hon. G. S. Parker, J.
Christie, W. D. Pechell, Capt.
Courtenay, Lord Rich, H.
Cowper, hon. W. F. Russell, Lord J.
Duncan, G. Sheil, rt. hon. R. L.
Dundas, Adm. Sheridan, R. B.
Dundas, D. Tancred, H. W.
Elphinstone, Sir H. Turner, E.
Escott, B. Vane, Lord H.
Etwall, R. Wakley, T.
Forster, M. Wilshere, W.
Greene, T. Wood, rt. hon. C.
Grey, rt. hon. Sir G. Wortley, hon. J. S.
Hatton, Capt. V. Wyse, T.
Hawes, B.
Hill, Lord M. TELLERS.
Hobhouse, rt. hn. Sir J. Tufnell, H.
Howard, P. H. Craig, W. G.
List of the NOES.
Bentinck, Lord G. Walsh, Sir J. B.
Douglas, Sir H. Yorke, hon. E. T.
Gore, hon. R.
Henley, J. W. TELLERS.
Rolleston, Col. Beresford, Major
Spooner, R. Newdegate, C. N.

Bill read a Third Time and passsed.

House adjourned at a quarter to Three o'clock.

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