HC Deb 22 June 1846 vol 87 cc811-8

said, that on Thursday last, in consideration of the circumstances of the Session, and the time occupied in deliberation upon other measures, he had stated to the House it was his intention, in order that every opportunity should be given for that full discussion which seemed desired on the sugar duties, to propose this day that they be renewed for one month only. He had, at the same time, stated that he would take a course which would not interrupt the progress of that temporary Bill; and, on one hon. Gentleman taking an objection in some measure to his proposal, he had consented to the withdrawal of the objectionable notice, with respect to the reduction in duty, and had contented himself with a notice to renew the duties for a limited period. This notice had been given on Thursday, with a view that if any hon. Gentleman had any other notice to give on the subject, the House might be fully informed of any such intention. It was not, however, until late yesterday evening, at 7 o'clock—that he had received an intimation from the noble Lord the Member for Lynn, that he intended on this (Monday) evening to move, on the House going into Committee on this subject, a resolution to the effect:— That the House was of opinion that the introduction of a Sugar Duties Bill for the short period of one month was calculated injuriously to affect the commercial interests of the country, and that it was the duty of Her Majesty's Ministers to have brought it forward at the usual period, and in sufficient time to pass through both Houses of Parliament before the expiration of those duties. Now, he thought that, on a question of this importance, involving the character and conduct of the Government, and expressing a censure on them, it was desirable that the House should have had information of it having been the intention to bring forward this resolution. At the same time, he had no wish to interfere with the noble Lord in bringing it forward, so as not to interrupt the progress of the sugar duties, that they might be levied after the 5th of July. He had stated to the noble Lord that to bring this on that evening, after the intention with respect to the Protection of Life Ireland Bill had been known, would be inconsistent with the rules which the House had laid down for its guidance; and to bring forward a resolution of this kind afterwards would only have the effect of interrupting the progress of the Bill, and the first step necessary for the renewal of the sugar duties. If the taking this first step was postponed to Friday—for it was only in the Committee on Ways and Means that it could be moved—there would not remain days sufficient to pass any Sugar Bill whatever before the duties expired. The noble Lord surely could not desire that which would be the inevitable effect of such a proceeding: great loss to the revenue, and great inconvenience to the commerce of the country, consequent upon an interval in which there would be levied no sugar duties whatever, would be the consequence. He thought also he could satisfy the noble Lord that the course before proposed to be taken, would not interfere with proposing his own resolution. If it was desired that, instead of being continued to the 5th of August, the duties should be continued for any lengthened period, there was nothing in the preliminary resolution in the Ways and Means which could prevent that. The resolution merely was that the existing duties should be continued; and in Committee on the Bill it was in the noble Lord's power to move the making the period of continuance of what, under the circumstances, was considered advisable. If the object was to pass a censure on Her Majesty Government, it was not necessary that the Motion should be brought forward at the time which had been fixed by the noble Lord, to the interruption of the other measure. The resolution might be moved at any subsequent stage of the proceedings on the Sugar Bill, and the noble Lord's object would then be effected without in any way interfering with the sole object of the Government, that the duties might not drop on the 5th of July. Having given this short explanation to the House, he ventured to hope that the noble Lord would not take the course which he had at first intimated his intention of pursuing; and he must take the liberty of adding, that he thought the House ought to have the fullest notice on the subject.


was quite ready to assure the right hon. Gentleman that neither he, nor any of the Friends with whom he acted, had the least wish to see the sugar duties expire on the 5th of July; and the Chancellor of the Exchequer was quite right when he took for granted that the purpose of the resolution, of which a draught had just been read to the House, was to pronounce a censure upon the Queen's Government. The intention and wish was to censure them for leaving to so late a period of the Session the proposed Motion respecting the sugar duties. In his opinion they were greatly to blame for thus putting to hazard three or four millions of the public revenue. The sugar duties appeared to him to be a matter of very great importance; and he certainly should not interpose any obstacle whatever to the continuance of those duties; and he believed that he could answer for his Friends around him that they were quite ready to support any renewal Bill which yielded the existing protection, or to take the duties as they now stood, unaccompanied by the modifications which four or five months ago the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government had shadowed forth to the House. If the responsible advisers of the Crown thought proper to propose a measure for one year, the course which he should take would be wholly different. They would then have his cordial support, and he doubted not the support also of the Friends by whom he was surrounded, for they, true to the principles which they put forth in 1841, when they turned out the Whig Government, were prepared to protect the produce of our Colonies, as they had shown themselves ready to protect the produce of the mother country. They did not blame the Ministers for proposing to renew the sugar duties; what they blamed them for was putting so large an amount of the revenue to hazard at so late a period of the Session. The effect of treating the matter in the manner proposed by the Government would be to let in 30,000 or 40,000 tons of sugar without paying any duty. He need scarcely remind the House that the Government had only left themselves a margin of 70,000l. to meet the demands which unexpectedly might come upon them in the course of the next year; and let the House picture to itself what would be the consequence of allowing three or four millions of revenue to be placed in jeopardy, with only a surplus of 70,000l., and the chance and the probability, if the sugar duties were, in the manner proposed, brought under the consideration of the House, that some hon. Members might extend the debate upon the subject to seven or eight nights, and in that way render it impossible to get the proposed measure through both Houses with sufficient speed. The debate in 1841 was prolonged to eight nights, and the same untoward occurrence might again take place. The Government were in great danger of leaving the country to labour under a deficiency at the end of the year, and therefore did he desire to pass a censure on them for this delay. They had been told that there ought not to be a day's delay in passing some temporary measure. To that he replied, that he and the Friends with whom he acted would not allow such a measure to pass without censuring the Ministers who were thus hanging up the interests both of the East and of the West Indies. Such conduct appeared to be deserving of condemnation; and he was determined that to those who deserved it censure should be dealt out. The House was asked at the present moment to pass those duties for one month; but hon. Members whom he then addressed know well the state of political matters; they knew very well that at the end of a month the right hon. Baronet might not be a Minister of the Crown; they knew how probable it was that, he no longer being in power, the post of First Minister might devolve upon the noble Lord the Member for London. On his accepting the trust of forming an Administration, the noble Lord must necessarily propose to the House an adjournment of some duration, for the purpose of gaining time to fill up the vacant offices which the noble Lord must supply with proper persons, and to get himself and his subordinates in the Ministry re-elected as Members of that House. It was obvious, therefore, there would be no time to pass any Sugar Bill. The Government asked a month; but he asked them to let the persons engaged in the sugar trade know what they were about. As to the opposition which he intended to offer to the Government, he could assure the House that it would be no factious opposition; and if a disposition to pass the measure for one year showed itself, then he should consent to suspend the Standing Orders for the purpose of getting the Bill through both Houses of Parliament with the least possible delay; but he should not consent to let any Government escape without censure when they allowed 3,500,000l. of revenue to run within fourteen days of expiring before a Bill was brought in for its renewal.


thought it would be better to settle the sugar duties once for all; but for the present it would be better to pass the duties for one month, and leave the full discussion of them to a future day. If they were to have a differential duty, which he feared must be the case for some short time, he hoped that the Government would let the trade know what they had to expect as soon as possible.


said, he should prefer the duty of 19s. 10d. to leaving the duty as it was. He must say that if the intention of hon. Gentlemen opposite was to injure the revenue, they could not take any course better calculated to produce that result than the course that they were now pursuing. If they wished to carry a vote of censure on the Government, they ought to propose it at once in a straightforward manner. They ought to move an Address to the Crown, setting forth that the House of Commons no longer reposed any confidence in the advisers of the Crown. He must take the liberty of adding that the farmers would not regard the hon. Gentlemen opposite as friends if they continued to insist upon protection for sugar. The farmers wished to see such a monopoly put down.


denied that the farmers would disapprove of protection. As long as he and his friends acted upon the principles which they professed, the farmers would support them, even though the course which they took might somewhat militate againt the interest of the farmers as consumers of sugar. He and his friends contended that the delay which the Corn Bill occasioned, formed no excuse for postponing the sugar duties. He deprecated the Corn Bill, but he contended that it formed no reason why the revenue should not be provided for.


complained of the injury to trade occasioned by this delay, and the extreme uncertainty as to when the subject would come under discussion. It would not be brought before a Committee of Ways and Means before Friday next, and the Bill could certainly not be passed before the 5th of July.


suggested that the wishes of the noble Lord might be accomplished as well at a later day as on the first proposition of the sugar duties in a Committee of Ways and Means. They might allow the House to go into a Committee of Ways and Means, and take the discussion at a future stage of the proceedings.


said that, whatever case the noble Lord might make out as to the censure of Ministers, the noble Lord could not reasonably object to a Motion continuing the sugar duties for the present. They might, he thought, now go into a Committee of Ways and Means, and proceed with the Motion at once, which would not take long. The full discussion of the question they might go into at a future time. If the present proposition were postponed till after the discussion on the Protection of Life Bill, there might be danger of not getting into it today; and, considering the notice that had been given, no one could say that he had been taken by surprise. It was unnecessary at that time for him to state his opinion with regard to the censure suggested by the noble Lord or with respect to the sugar duties; but he was very much of the same opinion with the hon. Member for Montrose: they had had two alterations in these duties proposed by Her Majesty's Government; they were about to have a third; and he thought the time was come when they ought to have a permanent arrangement.


said, that the time had arrived when the sugar duties ought to be settled on a comprehensive footing, and he therefore hoped the Chancellor of the Exchequer would carry the Motion of which he had given notice.


said, it was most desirable that the question of the sugar duties should be placed on a permanent footing, for the different Colonies had suffered greatly from uncertainty, and from having their interests affected, year by year, by the casualties of legislative enactments, or, as he might call it, the lottery of legislation. They had been the bone of contention in party politics, and he hoped this state of things would be put an end to. Under a general system of free trade, our West India connexions could not expect to be eventually an exception to the rule; but considering the alteration which had been made in their affairs by the abolition of slavery, for which they had received only an inadequate remuneration, he thought exemption ought to be made in their favour till the disabilities under which they laboured should be removed.


requested his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to avail himself of the encouragement afforded to him by both sides of the House, and not to delay the preliminary vote on the temporary renewal of these duties.


was perfectly willing, if it was understood that there would be no opposition, to go into a Committee of Ways and Means to pass the preliminary vote. If the House were prepared to adopt the resolution without discussion under present circumstonces, the noble Lord might upon another day enter upon the discussion of which he had given notice.


thought he had made himself fully understood when he had stated that he would not be a party to risking the public revenue. He had thought the suggestion he had thrown out might have been adopted by all parties; but if it were not, it was not the intention of himself, or of his Friend the hon. Member for Westmoreland, to interpose the Motion of which he had given notice on any stage of the Sugar Duties Bill; he would not be the cause of any delay, but he would take a future opportunity of proposing a direct vote of the character to which he had referred.


would take the vote after the discussion on the adjourned debate. ["No, no:" "Move, move."] Well, then, he would move the Order of the Day on the Committee of Ways and Means.

The House in Committee of Ways and Means; a Resolution that the duties now payable on sugars be further continued, was agreed to.

House resumed.

Resolution to be reported.