§ On the Question, that the Speaker do leave the chair to go into Committee of Ways and Means,
§ MR. SPOONER
said, he did not rise to oppose the Motion that the House do now resolve itself into Committee, nor would he delay the doing so for more than a very few minutes. His object in rising 246 was to ask the indulgence of the House while he very briefly stated the grounds on which he gave his support to the proposition of Her Majesty's Government. He had attempted to do so on a former occasion; but from the number of hon. Members who were more immediately connected with the West India interest, and therefore had a stronger claim to the attention of the House than he had, an opportunity of so doing was not afforded to him. The proposition of Her Majesty's Ministers brought under the consideration of the House two very important points—one, the great question of protection; the other, the effect which the measure proposed, if carried out, would have upon the Slave Trade and slavery. He had, however, determined, before he gave his vote, to lay aside every preconceived opinion, and give to the subject full and unprejudiced investigation. The result of this investigation was thoroughly to convince him that the present system was ineffectual for the purpose for which it had been adopted; and that the proposed measures would not give a stimulus to the Slave Trade, nor tend to the continuance of slavery. Had he continued to doubt upon the subject, nothing should have induced him to give his support to those measures. His noble Friend the Member for Liverpool had, in his judgment, clearly proved that the view he (Mr. Spooner) had stated was the true one. That speech was remarked upon by the noble Lord the Member for Stamford, in the last debate on this subject; and that noble Lord stated that it was unintelligible, and endeavoured to controvert it. Now, he (Mr. Spooner) thought it perfectly intelligible, and that it brought the question before the House in a clear and correct manner, and was unanswered and unanswerable. The noble Lord the Member for Liverpool stated, that all the sugar that was grown was consumed—that the supply was far from being equal to the demand—that the increase of the supply was not commensurate with the continual increase of demand—and, that so long as that continued, the exclusion of slave-labour sugar from this country caused a larger consumption amongst ourselves of free-labour sugar, drew so much more of that sugar from the continental market, and made a vacuum in that market, which slave-grown sugar supplied. Now, if the attempt thus made to exclude from our markets slave-grown sugar had proved ineffectual, how could we justify longer continuing 247 to resist its admission, when by so doing we laid a great burden on the working classes, to whose comfort a low price of sugar contributed?—how, in justice to the manufacturing interest, could we continue a system which could be proved beyond doubt to be most detrimental to that interest? A considerable trade might be carried on between this country and Brazil; but at present the duties levied in Brazil upon the iron and other manufactures of Birmingham were so high as greatly to limit, if not altogether prevent, the exportation of such goods. We were assured by the Brazilian Government, that if their sugars were admitted on the same terms as other foreign sugars, they would admit our manufactures upon the same terms as those of other nations. These restrictions on our trade did not, however, really check the exportation of Brazilian sugar. A mercantile firm in Birmingham had recently sent a person to Germany to buy German goods with British capital, which were sent to Brazil, the means of payment for which must ultimately be provided by the exportation of sugar. The merchants found that the only way of keeping up their connexion was to buy German goods, very much to the injury of the trade of this country, which could only be paid for with slave-grown sugar. This country was much more likely to effect the suppression of the Slave Trade, if they kept up a friendly intercourse with Brazil, instead of attempting to interfere with the internal arrangements of that country. He was, upon principle, a thorough protectionist, and thought that protection to native industry was the surest foundation on which the prosperity of this country rested. As long as protection could be maintained, he had endeavoured to support it; but Parliament had now decided by a great majority that the principle of protection must be abandoned. As long as protection was maintained, it must be in its integrity as a great whole; it could not be preserved for the colonial interest, when taken away from the landed interest. He should vote in favour of the new duties, under a full conviction that by so doing he should not cause any stimulus to be given to slavery or the Slave Trade. Believing also, as he did, that the principle of protection would be found the surest way in which the taxation of the country could be supported with the least pressure upon the working classes, he was, in principle, as decided a protectionist as ever. The British labourer, of 248 every description, was really the person most interested in the maintenance of protection; for the principle of protection was simply this, that the produce of no man's labour should meet the produce of British labour in the British market without contributing an equal share to the taxation of the country. Parliament had decided that that principle should no longer be adhered to—was it then just to say to the British labourer, "You shall have to contend with foreign competition in the articles you produce, but you shall not have the benefit of competition in the articles you consume?" To those who agreed with him, that protection was the principle upon which the commerce of this country ought to be conducted, he would say, that they would be far more likely to bring about its re-adoption by carrying out the contrary principle to its full extent. Protection never could again be adopted except by the united voice of the whole nation. A divided Parliament—a divided nation could never restore it; nothing but one universal demand for it, occasioned by the evil consequences which he feared would be found to result from what was called free trade, would effect that object. This universal agreement never would be obtained until all interests were brought to feel the evil consequences of the abandonment of protection. It had been urged that the West Indies had a particular claim to exemption, arising from our legislation with respect to the emancipation of their slaves; for this we had already paid twenty millions, and he (Mr. Spooner) conceived that that fully balanced that account—not that he grudged that twenty millions; for he thought it worthy of a great Christian nation thus to endeavour to get rid of a system the continuance of which would have inflicted an indelible disgrace upon a Christian people.
§ SIR R. H. INGLIS
said, that amongst the many defeats he had sustained in that House, there was none that he felt more keenly than that which was conveyed in the decision of the House on Tuesday last. If by any opposition on his part he could hope to reverse that decision, his efforts would not be wanting; but when the majority was so large, he could not but be conscious that opposition was hopeless, and could only lead to irritation and a useless interference with the discharge of public business. He did not rise then for the purpose of renewing the debate of Tuesday last, nor for the purpose of answering—as 249 it might easily be answered—the speech of the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Spooner), the last convert to free trade, and the latest abandoner of the principle of protection. He would only state, that deeply as he regretted the injury which would be sustained by our countrymen in consequence of the change that had been decided on in the course of the last few days; deeply as he regretted the majority by which that change was produced, being a combination of individuals and parties such as perhaps the wildest imagination of any man in the House could never have expected upon such a subject; and still more deeply as he regretted the decision as it affected the almost incalculable increase of the greatest curse of humanity that the last three centuries had seen—he referred to the Slave Trade more particularly—yet in a hopeless contest like that which he believed this to be, he would not weary the House by repeating the arguments that had proved so ineffectual in the mouths of better and abler men than himself during the late discussions; and therefore he would take the present opportunity of throwing the whole responsibility, both as it respected the great colonial interests of England, and as it respected the far higher interests of general humanity, upon those who, in defiance alike of one and the other,
|2. On Sugar or Molasses the growth and produce of any other British Possession within the limits of the East India Company's Charter:—|
|CLASSES.||From and after the passing of this Act to 5 July, 1847, inclusive.||From and after 5 July, 1847, to 5 July, 1848, inclusive.||From and after 5 July, 1848, to 5 July, 1849, inclusive.||From and after 5 July, 1849, to 5 July, 1850, inclusive.||From and after 5 July, 1850, to 5 July, 1851, inclusive.||From and after 5 July, 1851.|
|Candy, Brown or White, Double Refined Sugar, or Sugar equal in quality to Double Refined, for every cwt.||1||6||3||1||5||6||1||4||4||1||3||3||1||2||0||The same duties as on Candy, Sugar, and Molasses, the produce of other British Colonies.|
|Other Refined Sugar, or Sugar rendered by any process equal in quality thereto, for every cwt.||1||3||4||1||2||8||1||1||8||1||0||8||0||19||8|
|White Clayed Sugar, or Sugar rendered by any process equal in quality to White Clayed, not being Refined, for every cwt.||1||0||5||0||19||10||0||18||11||0||18||1||0||17||2|
|Brown Sugar, being Muscovado, or Clayed, or any other Sugar, not being equal in quality to White Clayed, for every cwt.||0||17||6||0||17||0||0||16||3||0||15||6||0||14||9|
|Molasses, for every cwt.||0||6||6||0||6||4||0||6||1||0||5||9||0||5||6|
§ had proposed and carried the present measure.
§ House in Committee.
§ The following Resolutions were moved by the Chancellor of the Exchequer:—
§ 1. Resolved—That, towards raising the Supply granted to Her Majesty in lieu of the Duties of Customs now payable on Sugar or Molasses, the following Duties shall, from and to the respective days herein mentioned, be charged on Sugar and Molasses imported into the United Kingdom, (that is to say),
|1. On Sugar, or Molasses, the growth and produce of any British Possession in America, or of any British Possession within the limits of the East India Company's Charter, into which the importation of Foreign Sugar is prohibited, and imported from thence, from and after the passing of this Act:—||£||s.||d.|
|Candy, Brown or White, Double Refined Sugar, or Sugar equal in quality to Double Refined, for every cwt.||1||1||0|
|Other Refined Sugar, or Sugar rendered by any process equal in quality thereto, for every cwt.||0||18||8|
|White Clayed Sugar, or Sugar rendered by any process equal in quality to White Clayed, not being Refined, for every cwt.||0||16||4|
|Brown Sugar, being Muscovado or Clayed, or any other Sugar not being equal in quality to White Clayed, for every cwt.||0||14||0|
|Molasses, for every cwt.||0||5||3|
|3. On Sugar or Molasses, the growth and produce of any foreign country:—|
|CLASSES.||From and after the passing of this Act to 5 July, 1847, inclusive.||From and after 5 July, 1847, to 5 July, 1848, inclusive.||From and after 5 July, 1848, to 5 July, 1849, inclusive.||From and after 5 July, 1849, to 5 July, 1850, inclusive.||From and after 5 July, 1850, to 5 July, 1851, inclusive.||From and after 5 July, 1851.|
|Candy, Brown or White, Double Refined Sugar, or Sugar equal in quality to Double Refined, for every cwt.||1||11||6||1||10||0||1||7||9||1||5||6||1||3||3||The same duties as on Candy, Sugar, and Molasses, the produce of British Colonies.|
|Other Refined Sugar, or Sugar rendered by any process equal in quality thereto, for every cwt.||1||8||0||1||6||8||1||4||8||1||2||8||1||0||8|
|White Clayed Sugar, or Sugar rendered by any process equal in quality to White Clayed, not being Refined, for every cwt.||1||4||6||1||3||4||1||1||7||0||19||10||0||18||1|
|Brown Sugar, being Muscovado, or Clayed, or any other Sugar, not being equal in quality to White Clayed, for every cwt.||1||1||0||1||0||0||0||18||6||0||17||0||0||15||6|
|Molasses, for every cwt.||0||7||10||0||7||6||0||6||11||0||6||4||0||5||9|
§ 2. Resolved—That the Bounties or Drawbacks following be paid and allowed upon the exportation of certain descriptions of Refined Sugar from the United Kingdom (that is to say),
|Upon Double Refined Sugar, or Sugar equal in quality to Double Refined, for every cwt.||£||s.||d.|
|Upon other Refined Sugar in Loaf, complete and whole, or Lumps duly Refined, having been perfectly clarified and thoroughly dried on the stove, and being of an uniform whiteness throughout, or such Sugar pounded, crushed, or broken, for every cwt.||0||17||0|
|Upon Bastard or Refined Sugar, broken in pieces, or being ground, or powdered Sugar pounded, or crushed or broken, for every cwt.||0||14||0|
§ On the first Resolution,
§ MR. D. BARCLAY
rose and addressed the Committee in opposition to the Resolutions. He urged the importance of affording our West Indian Colonies a supply of free labour. He observed, that there was a wide difference between labour, which, in the case of free negroes, was optional, and the work of fourteen or 252 sixteen hours a day, which was exacted from the slaves in Cuba or Brazil. It could not be expected, if the duties upon foreign or colonial sugar were equalized, that the attachment which was now exhibited by our Colonies towards the mother country would be permanent. Indeed, he considered the withdrawal of protection from our Colonies was tantamount to severing the connexion between them and this country. If this measure should, however, be adopted, he thought that every restriction which prevented the consumption of our colonial sugar and rum in this country should be removed. A certain amount of protection was still given to our manufacturers; and if a similar protection was not to be extended to our colonists, one almost felt inclined to ask whether they were to be regarded as our fellow subjects. He hoped, if the measure of the Government was adopted, that no obstruction would be offered to the introduction of free labour into our colonial possessions, or to the unrestricted use of colonial sugar in the breweries and distilleries of this country. The hon. Member for Dover had stated the other night that in consequence of the measure which had been proposed by the Government, the cultivation of several estates in our West 253 Indian Colonies had been abandoned, and he (Mr. Barclay) had heard to-day that the cultivation of other estates would be given up, He considered that this subject deserved the serious consideration of Her Majesty's Ministers, more especially as the colonists had no representatives in that House. The hon. Member then said he had a proposition to submit to the Committee, for regulating the duties in a manner different from that proposed by the Government, and was proceeding to read his Amendment, when
§ On the Question, that White Clayed Sugar, or Sugars rendered by any process equal in quality to White Clayed, not being refined, pay a duty of 16s. 4d. for every cwt.,
moved as an Amendment the repeal of the differential duties on white clayed sugar and muscovado or other sugar not being equal to white clayed. He observed that there was a great difficulty in obtaining any accurate test to distinguish these sugars, and the discriminating duty was otherwise objectionable, as it converted the Custom-house officers into a sort of tribunal for taxing imported goods. Last year the right hon. Baronet anticipated that there would be a revenue of 230,000l. from this discriminating duty; whereas the actual result proved the revenue so raised to be no more than 3,580l. Now, the sugar importers would rather pay that sum to the exchequer out of their own pockets than be subject to the annoyance and inconvenience resulting from the operation of this discriminating duty. It was inefficient for any useful purpose, but active for evil, as it checked improvement in the manufacture of sugar, as the manufacturers endeavoured to keep it just a shade below the point which would subject it to the discriminating duty.
The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
agreed in some of the observations of the hon. Member, though he differed from him in respect to the conclusion to which the hon. Member had come; for he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) did not think it expedient to do away with this discriminating duty. When the right hon. Gentleman opposite introduced this distinction, he did not put it very much on the ground of revenue, but rather on the circumstance that a great quantity of 254 sugar underwent some process of manufacture, which rendered it more valuable than the ordinary sugar; and that therefore it was not unfair that it should pay a higher rate of duty. He had been looking at the prices current for July, and he found that the descriptions of sugar which according to the proposition of the hon. Member would come in at the same rate of duty, had varied most extraordinarily in price, and it was hardly fair that they should come in at the same duty. The right hon. Gentleman read the following statement:Prices of sugar:—Mauritius, very brown, July 4, 1l. 16s. to 1l. 17s.; July 22, 1l. 17s. to 1l. 19s. West India, brown, July 4, 2l. 2s. to 2l. 4s.; July 22, 2l. 6s. to 2l. 8s. Dhobar, July 4, 1l. 19s. to 3l. 5s.; July 22, 2l. 7s. to 3l. Cossipore, July 22, 2l. 14s. to 3l. 4s.Consequently, if the hon. Member's proposition were carried, there would be the same duty on sugar which was sold for 1l. 17s. and that which was sold for 3l. 4s. This was the ground on which this discriminating duty was imposed. It was perfectly true that the right hon. Gentleman did calculate that a considerable amount of duty would arise from the discrimination, and that that expectation had been entirely disappointed. He must therefore admit that, as a financial measure, this discriminating duty had failed. It was also true, that it had caused a certain annoyance and inconvenience to the trade, which he should be happy to do his best to remove. He had received a deputation of gentlemen interested in the repeal of this discriminating duty; which they thought ought to be converted into a rated duty on all sugars unrefined. He admitted that there might be difficulty in many ways in carrying into effect this duty, approaching to an ad valorem duty; but if grounds existed for its original imposition, there seemed to be more for its present continuance now that it was proposed to admit all foreign sugar; because various descriptions of sugar, of superior quality, might come in; and the House was not in a position to judge what effect that might have on the West Indian Colonies. On this point he would read extracts from two letters to the House:—I think the matter will be much changed by the introduction of Cuba and Brazil sugar. You would then have two classes only—the highest would be refined, and what was rendered by any process equal to refined and everything else would be admitted at 21s. duty. For the first class, fine white Havannah would, I suppose be your standard, to which none but the very finest Brazil sugar would come up, and perhaps a little of the 255 finest white Java; but a great deal would be entered both from Cuba and Brazil at the 21s. duty, which in quality would be equal or superior to the Dutch Java, No. 15 standard, although below Havannah white; and thus I think an additional and indirect and unintended injury would be inflicted on our own West India producers.Extract from letter, dated July 22, 1846:—The only thing that has excited any alarm is the uncertainty about the duty on refined and clayed sugar. If these fine sugars were to be admitted at any lower duty than the scale submitted to Parliament, I assure you, as a practical man, that the duties on these sugars would be lower, quality and value considered, than the duty on colonial sugar. It is quite a mistake to say, that any difficulty can arise as to the different qualities.He must, however, admit that Lord Spencer had imposed duties of a similar character on, tea, which he found himself afterwards obliged to abandon, introducing then a rated duty. Yet now considerable complaints were made that there was the same duty on lower sorts of teas as on some that were higher; and similar discontent would probably follow the adoption of the hon. Member's proposition. He had referred to the Custom-house officers to ascertain what inconvenience and uncertainty they had experienced, and he would on this point read a short extract from a letter written by the Chairman of the Board of Customs, dated July 30, 1846:—You will observe, that although on the first introduction of the discriminating duty on sugar, some inconvenience and delay were experienced, the officers report that the law has been and may be henceforward carried into operation with fairness and justice; that the decisions of the officers have been, with few exceptions, consistent with each other, and on the whole satisfactory to the trade and the public. The qualities of sugar imported into this country vary from the lowest—hardly better than molasses—to quality equal to refined sugar. The sugars from Havannah, which will now for the first time come into competition with our colonial sugars, are of a very superior quality. Some of these will undoubtedly be assessed as refined sugar; but other parcels, not quite coming up to the standard of refined, would pay the lowest duty (if the intermediate rate be abolished) and would in that case be very unequally taxed, as compared with the average samples of muscovado sugar. It is not my province as a revenue officer to decide on the policy and expediency of retaining this class of duties. It is perhaps sufficient for me to repeat, that if it be the pleasure of Parliament to continue the existing classification, the officers of the Customs feel confident that they will be able to assess the duties on sugar without difficulty or inconvenience.That was the opinion of a gentleman well known to hon. Members of that House, 256 the present Chairman of the Board of Customs. The Surveyor General of Customs reported, under date July 23, 1846:—We beg to express our belief that the law has been, and may be, carried out by the officers of Customs with fairness and justice. But there have been instances in which the parties immediately interested have been dissatisfied with the officers' decisions, although those decisions have met with the concurring opinions of the trade, with whom the officers have conferredWith respect to the principal outports, the cases there had been so trifling, and had been decided so satisfactorily, that there could not be ground for that general dissatisfaction intimated by the hon. Member. [The right hon. Gentleman read various reports from the Custom-house officers of Dublin, Bristol, Greenock, and Liverpool.] He did not mean, he continued, to maintain that the discriminating duty had not been attended with some difficulty and objection; but the whole of the papers which he had read showed that there was not much reason to complain. Let the line be drawn where it might, there must be some cases approaching very near it, occasioning difficulty and doubt; and when samples were sent out to the sugar countries abroad, with directions to the manufacturers to work their sugar as near to the sample as possible, so that it might escape the discriminating duty, and if in the process of working they made a slight mistake and overshot the mark, subjecting the sugar to the duty of 16s. 4d., no doubt in such a case some little dissatisfaction would arise. He had no reason to believe that the decision which had been come to would be unsatisfactory to the trade in general. Considering that the West Indians were the parties on whom the present measure with respect to the Sugar Duties pressed most severely, he should certainly be unwilling, under present circumstances, and without stronger grounds, to inflict what they might regard as an additional grievance and blow on them. This arrangement of the discriminating duty could not altogether be considered as much more than experimental; it had been in operation but for one year, and could hardly he said to have been fairly tried. What additional difficulty might be created in connexion with it by the introduction of all kinds of foreign sugar, it was not for him to say; but he was not prepared to give up the discriminating duty at the present moment, though at the same time he could not pledge himself to it as a permanent measure. The West Indian body might 257 before long not be in favour of keeping up this distinction. To a certain extent it discouraged improved processes of manufacturing their sugar; and from a return he had read, it appeared it was in three or four instances on West Indian sugar that the higher rate of duty had been charged; and, therefore, some of the West Indian body might be in favour of doing away with the discrimination. He had received suggestions from various gentlemen, and should do all in his power to render the standard certain.
§ MR. P. M. STEWART
thought the present measure was to be final. If the question now before the House was to be revived hereafter, the West Indians might some day be robbed of the benefit they were to receive for the sacrifice by which they supposed they were now purchasing peace.
§ Amendment withdrawn.
§ On the Question, that on Brown Sugar, being Muscovado or Clayed, or any other Sugar not been equal in quality to White Clayed, there be paid for every cwt. a duty of 14s.,
rose to move, that colonial sugar be admitted for the next three years at a duty not exceeding 10s. the cwt. If there was to be only the small differential duty proposed between colonial and slave-grown sugar, our West Indian cultivation would in a very short time be entirely discontinued; no one would carry on any concern for a length of time without a reasonable prospect of some profit. The Government calculations as to revenue were based upon the expectation that our importations from our Colonies were to continue what they were, or nearly so; but he felt convinced that in a very few years we should be supplied almost entirely from slave countries, and the price of sugar would be much greater than at present. Our colonial proprietors would be ruined, and slavery and the Slave Trade increased and perpetuated. Without troubling the House with a long speech about nothing, he would propose his Amendment, with a view to afford our colonists a chance of being able to continue the cultivation of their properties, not merely for their own benefit, but also for that of the people at large. Why should there be a tax on colonial produce, any more than on importations from Ireland, or on the productions of Wales? But if there must be, one penny a pound would be better than three halfpence. He was actuated by anything but feelings of 258 hostility to the Government, and particularly to the noble Lord who was its head and ornament; he (Mr. James) supported the same party once, when Lord Melbourne was at their head, on a very important occasion; he could not tell whether they recollected it, but he himself did. It would be useless to divide the House now that they were supported not only by their friends, but by their opponents; he must content himself with urging the Government to consider the justice of his proposal.
The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER
regretted that he could not be swayed altogether by a feeling of gratitude to the hon. Gentleman. The Amendment would involve a very large sacrifice of revenue; no quantity of sugar could be brought at a 10s. duty to supply an adequate revenue. If the Government could have consented to reduce the 14s. duty, no one would be more glad than he; but it could not be done now, and he was afraid that for the next five years they would have no chance of doing it.
§ Amendment withdrawn.
§ On the Question, that on Candy, brown, or white, Double Refined Sugar, or Sugar equal in quality to Double Refined, there be paid, from and after the passing of this Act to July 5, 1847, inclusive, 1l. 11s. 6d. for every cwt.; and from and after July 5, 1847, to July 5, 1848, inclusive, 1l. 10s.,
The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
admitted that it might be difficult to give reasons for the precise scale adopted; but upon the whole he thought the Government scale of reductions year after year the best calculated to promote the interests of the West India proprietors themselves and of the consumer, as well as best for the revenue. With regard to the introduction of molasses into distilleries, all he would now say was, that he would give the subject the fullest consideration; but on this point the West India interest had sent him no details; the colonists were entitled to, and would certainly receive from the Government, every aid which could be given them in the disposal of their produce.
§ MR. BARKLY
Mr. Greene, I did not intend to trouble the House again on the subject of these duties, when I explained my reasons for voting the other night for going into this Committee, and I shall do so briefly now. I did hope Her Majesty's 259 Government would have taken the advice of men of all parties, both in and out of the House, and improved their scale by abolishing the last year's protection, and condensing the amount of protection left on the former years. With all its pretence of protection, with the sixty different rates of duty it imposes on saccharine matter in its various stages—which it will take the time of a clerk in every merchant's office to investigate—this measure will not have the effect of encouraging the West India planter to persevere at this hour of trial. The amount of protection it provides (which, of course, in any event, will enhance the price of all foreign sugar admitted), is so distributed as to be of the least possible use to him. It is high in the first two years, when, from the shortness of his own crops and the impossibility of diverting more than a limited quantity of the existing supply of foreign sugar to this country, he least needs it: it drops to a merely nominal amount the third year, when the increased produce resulting from the labour he has procured, and the capital he has expended, comes to market, and when the slave-owner is prepared to pour in a large supply of foreign sugar. What the West India planter requires is a valid protection during the time he is procuring labour, and rendering it available. The rag of protection left on the last two years in these Resolutions, is universally held by men of business to be a mockery to the producer, and a robbery of the consumer. Long before five years the question must be decided as to whether an estate in the West Indies can be restored to its former state of remunerative cultivation, or whether its proprietor shall cease to struggle with insuperable difficulties. The West India steamer that departs to-morrow will bear the announcement of ruin to many unfortunate individuals, who, at the moment at which the House are discussing this question, are not even aware that they have to contend with any other competition in the case of the sugar they are now manufacturing, than that of the free-labour produce which the late Government proposed to admit. I should certainly have supported the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Sunderland, if he had deemed it expedient to go to a division, because that, trifling as is the improvement it would have effected, I did hope it might have had the effect of inducing merchants to continue, at least for a short time, to support their mortgages, because I believe it would 260 have conciliated the feelings of the colonial producer, and encouraged him to persevere, and because by these means it would have secured a cheaper supply of sugar to the people of this country, whilst it attained for them the abolition of all restrictions, and free trade in sugar one year earlier than by the measure proposed by Government. I cannot see why these advantages should be sacrificed to the maintenance of what I must be excused for calling a show of consistency on the part of Her Majesty's Ministers, in upholding a hasty and ill-considered measure. I fear the manner in which the moderation of a great interest has been met on this occasion by the noble Lord at the head of the Administration, will tend greatly to confirm the impression that the Government of this country is alone open to the influence of agitation and clamour.
§ SIR J. R. REID
observed, that the West India packet which was to sail next day would carry out to the colonists there intelligence of the most melancholy kind that the West Indies had perhaps ever received. He did not hesitate to say that the course taken by Her Majesty's Government was full of the grossest injustice to those Colonies; but while he said this, he was compelled also to say, that the kindness of manner and the urbanity shown by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer commanded universal respect. Great injustice had, nevertheless, been inflicted on the West Indies, and he could tell the House that it had been decided that very day by merchants connected with these Colonies to abandon their estates, and not send out their usual supplies. He should not be doing his duty to those whom he represented, if he did not state this fact unequivocally and distinctly to the House. He would appeal to the justice, honour, and kind feeling of the House, whether a great interest like this ought to be sacrificed. He objected to the conclusion at which the House had arrived; he objected to the mode in which the question had been discussed, and also to the hurried manner in which in which it had been disposed of; and, he objected generally to the unjust, and cruel, and oppressive manner in which all connected with that great interest had been treated. He hoped the House would make some allowance for his expressing himself warmly, but his sentiments were most sincere; they were founded in truth, and every word that he had uttered came from his heart.
§ MR. P. M. STEWART
thought the gloom which hung over the West Indies had been rather exaggerated by the hon. Gentlemen who opposed the Government measure. He should have been exceedingly glad if the Government had acceded to the Amendment, as it would have been valuable as an expression of kind feeling towards the Colonies, while in a financial point of view that Amendment was, in his opinion, preferable to the proposal of the Government. It would have been better for the revenue; to the consumer it would have commended itself as proposing to limit the term to four instead of five years; and to the colonist it would have the recommendation that it would enable him to put himself right in three years, so as to be ready to come into competition with foreigners. On these grounds he was sorry that the Amendment had not been conceded. In regard to the gloom, however, he hoped the tone which their Friends opposite had thrown into the debate, would not be sent across the Atlantic to the Colonies. They were not gone yet, but would still be ready to compete, if the Government would realize to them the hopes which had been held out with reference to other measures—he meant an unrestricted supply of labour from any British possession under the sun, and also with regard to the disposal of their produce. He would, therefore, say to his friends in the Colonies, that hard and severe as this measure was, great as was the competition to which it exposed them, yet, with all these disadvantages, if the Government would act up to its promises with regard to the supply of labour and the disposal of their produce, they would be able to go on successfully yet.
§ MR. BORTHWICK
had no doubt that the measure was in itself most beneficial, looking at the Colonies as Colonics; but he would state a case to the House which would show that the fears of many individuals were far from groundless. The case he referred to was that of an estate in the island of Demerara. The property for half a century yielded to the proprietor 20,000l. a year. The proprietor—a lady—like most West Indian proprietors, resided in this country. She lived up to the amount of her income; the estate during the period mentioned regularly yielding a spendable income of 20,000l. a year, but at this moment the estate was making a debt of 10,000l. annually; in fact, there was a mortgage upon it of 10,000l., and the merchants in the city, who had the 262 management of the property, now said they could not sell the property in the market for as much money as would pay off the mortgage of 10,000l. The state to which the lady was reduced was such that she had applied to some friends of his (Mr. Borthwick's) to try whether he could not obtain situations for her two daughters as governesses. The mortgage would probably, in consequence of this measure, be foreclosed, and the lady would be deprived of any income at all, and would be reduced to utter ruin. Now this lady was the representative of a large class, and he felt confident he should not be working upon the sympathies of Members of that House in vain, in asking the Government to afford such protection to proprietors as would enable estates similar to the one he had mentioned to be protected.
§ MR. GOULBURN
said, it was impossible for those who were connected with the West Indian Colonies, or who had known what had gone on in them, not to be able to produce many melancholy instances in which those who had been in affluence and comfort had been reduced to straitened circumstances, to dependence, and distress, which extended not only to individuals who were able to find some other means for providing for themselves, but which involved many women and children, who had no means of obtaining their subsistence; still he was not prepared, if the question had gone to a division, to vote for the Amendment of his hon. Friend. Not but that he would have been glad if the Government had come forward to adopt that or some analogous proposition, more with a view of showing some interest for a deeply suffering body, than with any expectation of a beneficial result. He would, however, insist upon other points, which combining with the acknowledged principles now adopted, could be carried, and he urged the friends of the colonists to use their energies in pressing upon the Government those other measures of compensation which could be given without the departure from any principle, and for which, in strict conformity with what was right, the West Indians had the strongest claims upon any Government, when they were to be deprived of that protective duty which appeared to the Legislature to have been imposed upon their fellow subjects only to aggravate the price of a commodity of great necessity. Supposing, therefore, the propositions in behalf of the Government would be acted upon in sincerity, he 263 felt it would be best for the West Indians to make the Government responsible, and to claim from those who took away their advantage, to give them others which would enable them to enter into fair competition. He should certainly recommend those whom he advised, not to press the Government on the subject of sugar; but to press till they had gained a perfect equality of duty in other commodities, and such assistance in the way of labour as could be given without violating any principle that had been laid down with respect to the Slave Trade. As a compensation for the tardiness of that assistance, every energy must now be used. He was one of the body whose interests were deeply affected, and he should follow the advice of the hon. Member for Renfrewshire (Mr. P. Stewart), and advise others, not, in the first feelings of distress, to abandon those exertions by which alone they could be rescued from impending ruin; and he trusted that this body, looking at the assurance which had been given by the Government that advantages would be afforded, and knowing that there were those in Parliament who would press the Government to answer their just claims, would find that their properties could be made productive, and so provide the great security against the foreign Slave Trade by bringing the produce of the West Indies into competition with slave-grown sugar.
§ DR. BOWRING
considered the calm and conciliatory spirit in which the West Indian interest had received the Government propositions, entitled them to have their case and their claims calmly and deliberately considered by that House. For himself he was of opinion the present measure was entangled by too many complications; but he had no doubt Government would consider the details, and would be willing to inquire if there were not facilities and advantages that could be fairly conceded to the West Indian Colonies. He wished the rum question were finally settled. Difficulties put forward by the Excise or Customs ought not to be allowed to interfere with the settlement of a great question. Such minor impediments ought not to be permitted to offer an obstruction to beneficial legislation. The present step was an important step in the right direction, and he could not but feel if Government continued in the same course, they would find a disposition on all sides to lend them a common support.
knew that letters would 264 be written to-morrow to all the large Colonies, and he was glad therefore that the right hon. Gentleman had repeated his promise and declared that he was ready to carry out a system of justice to all classes; but there was something dropped from the right hon. Gentleman, though he spoke in so low a tone of voice that he could hardly hear him, about not knowing exactly what the West Indians wished.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, that the West Indians had stated that as all protection was withdrawn from them, there ought to be no protection against them; and he had asked them, instead of laying down a general principle in which all were agreed, to give him the details of what restrictions they complained of, and what obstacles they met with. Take rum for instance, protection and free trade had nothing to do with the principle of that duty. It was imposed as a fiscal regulation, that the burden on British spirit and on colonial should be such as to allow them to come into consumption on precisely equal terms. Upon that principle the differential duty of 1s. 6d. had been imposed, and it was believed under the existing circumstances that, with this fiscal burden, the colonial and British spirit would come into English consumption on equal terms. When the question was last before the Government, therefore, they decided that 1 s. 6d. was the requisite fiscal burden for that purpose; but when he had himself considered the subject, from the information he had received, he believed that the duty should be 1s. instead of 1s. 6d., that being, as he thought, about the sum which would provide the equality. He had since been told by the West Indian deputation that the 1s. 6d. was too high, and the distillers had remonstrated against him as going too far. He was not disposed to quarrel with these complaints; and he had told both parties that he admitted the principle of perfect equality, and that he would hear all the statements of the West Indians against the 1s. being too much, and of the distillers against its being too high; and, if the West Indians could make out that there was more than an equality in his proposed duty, he would reduce the duty to such amount as would cause an equality. The West Indians must admit that there were some charges, such as the malt duty, which the British distiller had to pay, and they had not. He and the West Indians were agreed as to the principle; and he was ready to go into 265 the details with them; all he asked was, that instead of their demanding of him to deal with them on the principle of free trade, to show him where the one shilling was too much. When he received that statement, justice should be done to all parties. So with regard to other articles, there was no question of protection; the duty was not imposed for the purpose of protection, but for other purposes. This was the case with molasses and sugar, about which his hon. Friend had stated he did not know the law. If instead of stating their wish that all protection should be done away with, he received some statement in detail—for it was not a question of protection but revenue—he would then deal fairly between all interests; but till he received those statements, he could only give the general assurance of the sincerity of his intentions.
did not doubt the right hon. Gentleman's sincerity or integrity; but as to-morrow's packet would go to the Colonies, it was essential that every thing should go with it that would allay irritation. When the hon. Gentleman said, that these duties were not imposed for the purposes of protection, he must add that they operated as a protection. When they found the duty on rum in Scotland to be 9s. 4d., and on spirits to be 3s. 8d., what did it signify for what reason the duty was imposed, since it operated as a protection? Did his right hon. Friend know that there was in Scotland a spirit called the "silent spirit," composed, he believed, of alcohol, which was made to appear of the colour, and something like the flavour of rum, which was vended to the injury of the seller of rum? If the duty of 1s. were proper, why was it not payable in Scotland? He knew that the distillers here would urge the expenses of their plant, and would contend that the 1s. was only a fair amount of the differential duty; but if this were so, could any one tell why the same differential duty did not prevail in Scotland and Ireland? Why was there not an uniform duty? There was a distinction with respect to spirits coming from Jersey, and so there would be no difficulty in collecting a different amount in Scotland or Ireland. He did not mean to cast any reflection on the integrity of the Excise, or on any other Board. They thought, no doubt, they only did what was right, and could have no bias for any interest; but the question was, what should be the amount of duty on rum, and what the duties on sugar and molasses admitted 266 into breweries? He believed that in distilleries sugar could be introduced, if corn were not on the premises; but it would not be admitted into breweries. [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER: Every one can brew his own sugar.] And so they might their cocculus indicus. With respect to labour, he believed that three years had been the time for which labourers had been engaged in Madeira.
§ MR. HUME
was sorry to hear such an account from the West Indies as had been given by the hon. Member. He was very anxious that Gentlemen should, on this occasion, repeat their determination to carry out the principle of free trade in every respect, and to allow no interference to prevent them. No one could have believed that matters would have been settled so amicably as they had been; and he was very glad to see that it had been so. The amount of the present protection was 22s., while all the colonists would have been satisfied with 24s. Now it did appear extraordinary, when the difference between them was so little—when the Colonies could have been so easily satisfied, the revenue improved, and no injury done to the consumer—that the Government had not felt themselves at liberty to have arranged the matter in such a way as would have put all the parties in a good humour, and have satisfied every one. He did not regard protection as being at all necessary to the Colonies, provided they had free labour in abundance; and it was with the view of giving them that necessary, that he expressed his hope that Her Majesty's Ministers would repeat their determination, in all good faith, to give their Colonies every assistance for its importation. He must, however, declare his opinion, that unless there were a change in the management of the Colonies—unless there were some end of this perpetual meddling—this constant interfering — this stopping one day, and urging another—the order of January being scarce received till it was countermanded by that of February—it was utterly impossible that any interest could thrive. If they looked to the state of every Colony under the Crown, they would see that ruin must follow, unless they were left to manage their own affairs. They had no Colony at present which was not a burden to the country. From every quarter the House had received petitions complaining of the evil consequences of the present system, which had destroyed the unanimity of action that ought to prevail 267 between them and the mother country. He hoped that the Colonies would receive the present measures of Government in good faith, and he should like to see good feeling established between this country and every one of them.
LORD J. RUSSELL
I have heard with very great pleasure the statement made during this discussion by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge. I have no hesitation in saying that he addressed himself to this question in the fairest possible manner; and I quite concur with the right hon. Gentleman in many of the observations which he made. I think, so far as they go, that they will be useful to the interests of the consumer. But apart from the observations made by the right hon. Gentleman, the attention of the House has been drawn to the scale proposed by the hon. Member for Sunderland; and I acknowledge that that scale does not appear to differ very widely from the scale proposed by Her Majesty's Government. But the subject is one of great importance; and I believe the House will agree with me in thinking that the scale proposed by the Government is likely to prove upon the whole more advantageous than any other that has yet been submitted to the House. I conceive that it will be better for the consumer in this point of view, because, during the first three years, there will not be sudden drops of 3s. 6d., and besides it will be better for the revenue; the sudden drops would have the effect of stopping consumption in many cases, and would, in my opinion, occasion much embarrassment. Looking, then, deliberately at the one plan and the other, I confess I do not see any sufficient reason for giving a preference to the proposition of the hon. Member for Sunderland over that of Her Majesty's Government. It is perfectly true, that some Gentlemen connected with the West Indian body said that they would prefer the scale proposed by the hon. Member for Sunderland; but I hope it will be remembered that on the first night we proposed our scale, we said it was only proposed for four years. It was said that 23s. 4d. ought to be maintained, and that six not four years ought to have been the time allowed. As to all the other measures of the Government which affected this question, the right hon. Gentleman the late Chancellor of the Exchequer said, that they were fair and just towards the West Indians, and that they were calculated to enable 268 the West Indians to compete with all others engaged in a similar trade. It is satisfactory to the Government to find that our measures are admitted to be fair and just. We are anxious they should be so in the minutest details; but I am sure the House will be ready to admit that we require time for the accomplishment of that object. I am at the same time ready to repeat my assurance that our propositions have not been brought forward for the sake of protection, but with the sincere wish of adjusting all the difficulties, and of effecting a settlement by which we might finally abide. With respect to the duty of 1s. 6d. payable on rum, I have thought it desirable to call the attention of the Chairman of the Board of Excise to that subject. I need scarcely say that I place great reliance upon his intelligence and judgment; and I am sure it will not be forgotten that he can have no prejudice, either in favour of the West India interest or against it. He agrees with us in thinking that 1s. 6d. will be no more than a fair compensation for loss, after the duty has been taken, and after due allowance has been made for other circumstances. All these matters we were bound to look into, and to give each the weight to which it was fairly entitled. We have considered all these circumstances, and so likewise has the Chairman of the Board of Excise, and we have arrived at the conclusion which has already been made known to the House. So much with respect to the question, as it affects distillers. With respect to the admission of sugar into breweries, we were anxious upon that point to come to the fairest possible decision, and I think the result will show that we have, in this case, taken the best course. We could not overlook the fact that in the West Indies a great social change had taken place by the abolition of slavery; that the benefits of protection had been extended to them for several years; we were therefore bound most carefully to look into all the attendant circumstances. I confess upon this point I was sorry to hear two hon. Members opposite speak in such a desponding tone as they did respecting the prospects of the West Indies. I must say that I do not come to the same conclusion as that at which they arrived. Though still considering and bearing in mind what I said upon a former occasion, I must repeat that I do not take such a gloomy view of the prospects of the West India interest as has been taken by those hon. Gentlemen. I 269 do believe that those Colonies possess the means of competing with all who are engaged in a similar trade: and I do believe that they will very soon show that they possess the means. I do not overlook the fact that additional labour has been freshly introduced into our West Indian Colonies. I happened to have been in the Colonial Office when restrictions were placed upon the introduction of additional labour from the coast of Africa. I altered those restrictions, first upon the representations of the several anti-slavery societies, and secondly upon representations which reached me from Foreign Powers—Spain, for instance, which charged us with attempting to revive the Slave Trade. Great precautions, however, were necessary; but I did not believe that the restrictions would be ultimately necessary, and I was of opinion that in a few years they might be relaxed. I stated that opinion in a despatch which I addressed to the Governor of Sierra Leone; and I believe I said that the introduction of free labourers from the coast of Africa would be attended with beneficial effects not only to the West Indies, but to the inhabitants of Africa themselves. For those labourers, when they returned to Africa, would probably bring back with them habits of life calculated to promote civilization in the barbarous parts of Africa. Those were my opinions, and I am glad to find that that permission which I gave for the introduction of free workmen, continues to further the results of labour; and the direct benefits accruing from that labour were not the only things that I looked to. It has been extensively useful to the West Indians. But I am by no means insensible to the apprehension that that system of immigration may be carried too far; and there is at present in this country a noble Lord who was for some years a governor of Jamaica, who agrees with me in thinking that it will only be useful, carried to a certain extent. In such a case as this, great attention should be paid to the expense of labour, and to the means of enabling the people of the West Indies to conduct their agricultural operations in the most economical manner. At the same time I am far from wishing to oppose my opinion to the laws which colonial assemblies may enact; they may think themselves right, and that we are wrong; we may think them wrong, and ourselves right. I do not now wish to say which is wrong; but this we do know, that obstacles have been raised to the introduction 270 of free labour; but I hope the matter will not be looked at despondingly, and that obstacles will not present themselves to our future course. I recollect when the right hon. Baronet who was at the head of the late Government, introduced his Corn Bill, that measure was regarded despondingly, and the most gloomy anticipations were indulged; yet they, I hope, will soon be falsified; and I trust that a similar degree of success awaits this measure also, and that soon not one of our Colonies will be a burden to us. [Mr. HUME: Can you tell me any one Colony that is not so?] I am not prepared to say, that every inhabitant of every Colony is perfectly satisfied; but I believe that the general feeling throughout our Colonies is not one of dissatisfaction; and I do believe that my noble Friend now at the head of the Colonial Department will pay every possible attention to the affairs of that department; and I am happy to be able to state that he agrees with me in the justice and expediency of extending free institutions as far as they possibly can be extended to all Colonies under the Crown of Great Britain. He agrees with me in thinking that wherever Englishmen are assembled in great numbers, they are not so well governed by a Secretary of State as by institutions which enable them in some degree to exercise self-government. I say this generally, without meaning to assert that it is true in all cases; but I believe it will be found to be true in a great number, and that we are fully justified in taking general measures for enabling all Colonies to be governed by free institutions.
§ MR. P. HOWARD
thought there was one point which the Government might fairly concede to the colonists—a point which had been alluded to by the hon. Member for Weymouth. It was proposed to limit the contracts with the labourers to one year. He considered that period too short, both for the employer and the labourer, and was of opinion that the period of contract labour ought to extend to four or five years. Such a change would not only be beneficial to the Hill Coolies, but to the imported Africans. He hoped the Government would take into consideration the suggestions he had offered, and that the boon sought for would be conceded to the West Indians.
§ Amendment withdrawn.
§ Resolutions agreed to.
§ House resumed. Report to be brought up.