HC Deb 19 July 1848 vol 100 cc575-9

said: An impression prevails in the City, which I believe to be well founded, that it will not be competent to Her Majesty's Government to levy the sugar duties according to law which are now being levied under the Resolutions which have passed this House; and that if the Government propose to raise the duties which are now being raised, they must ask leave to withdraw from the House the Sugar Bill that is now before it, cancel the resolutions that have been passed, and begin again. The House may, perhaps, not be aware that the duties, by the Act now in force—that is, the old Act of 1846—are levied "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." Her Majesty's Ministers, in their desire, I suppose, to economise a few words—the only economy which they have ever displayed—have altered the heading of the resolution thus: that the following duties shall be charged "on sugar or molasses the growth or produce of any British possession into which the importation of foreign sugar is prohibited, being imported from any such possession." Now, the importation of foreign sugar into Jamaica is certainly not prohibited; consequently it will not be competent, under the Bill at present before the House (founded on the resolutions which we have passed), for any such duties as those agreed to in the first Schedule (being 13s. per cwt. on muscovado sugar) to be levied upon sugar imported from any British possessions into which the importation of foreign sugar is not prohibited. Consequently, the only duties that can he levied under this Bill "on sugar or molasses the growth and produce of any other British possession, being imported from any such possession"—that is to say, the duties leviable on sugar the growth and produce of Jamaica, will be the duties leviable under the second schedule in the resolution, and which schedule imposes on muscovado sugar a duty of 15s. 9d. per cwt. I speak of Jamaica because I am certain of the fact; but I believe the case applies to the greater part of the West India colonies. I am not certain whether it applies to the Mauritius or not; but I am certain it applies to Jamaica, and that the only duty that can be levied under this Act on sugar the growth and produce of Jamaica is 15s. 9d. per cwt., and not 13s. per cwt., on muscovado sugar. Now, I have looked to the 8th and 9th Victoria, c. 93, being "An Act to regulate the Trade of British Possessions abroad," and I have also looked to the Warehousing Act, to see whether this case was provided for, but I can find no loophole out of which the Customs will be able to creep, and levy any other duty than that of 15s. 9d. per cwt. on muscovado sugar the growth and produce of Jamaica. I apprehend, therefore, that there will be no course open to Her Majesty's Ministers, but that of withdrawing the Sugar Bill now before the House-asking the House to cancel the resolutions, and starting afresh and beginning altogether de novo. Whilst I am on this topic—and I assume that I am correct—I beg leave to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer to another point, the duties now leviable upon foreign refined sugar—whether Dutch, Hamburgh, or any sugar imported from the continent of Europe. By the Act of 1846, the duties so leviable were 3l. 3s. per cwt. The right hon. Gentleman has omitted that part of the old schedule of duties altogether from his Bill, and from his Resolutions. That schedule was intended to be a protection to British refiners, and also to the wharfingers and warehousemen in this country; but, under the proposed new law, refined sugar of this description may be imported on paying a duty of only 1l. 4s. 8d. per cwt. Now, the difference in price between sugar of equal quality, refined in this country, and refined in Holland, and how in bond, was, five days ago, no less than 7s. 7d. per cwt. The effect of the declaration of the right hon. Gentleman, on Saturday last, was to knock down the price of British refined sugar 3s. per cwt., and to raise the price of Dutch or De Bruyn refined sugar 2s. per cwt. In short, it was said in the City, that if the Sugar Bill passed in its present shape, it will set Messrs. De Bruyn and Co., who are bankrupts at this moment, entirely upon their legs again, at the expense of the British refiners. Therefore, the sugar refiners complain that they are taken entirely by surprise, and are stabbed in the dark. I do not think it right to say that; but they are entitled to complain that the Chancellor of the Exchequer never said one word upon this subject when he was making his exposition of the Government measure to the House. It is true, if the refiners had looked at the heading of the different schedules, they might have found out that the old schedules had been omitted; but, as far as the sugar interests understood the question, they believed the new measure of the Government to be one of relief and not of injury to the colonies; and it never occurred to them that Her Majesty's Ministers would by their measure injure the refiners very deeply, and put the colonists in almost as bad a condition as they were before. Assuming, as I do, that the Government will have to begin over again, I hope that they will take these matters into their consideration, and bring forward fresh resolutions in all respects more agreeable to the sugar planters, and which will not be injurious to the British sugar refiners, or threaten the interests of the warehousers and wharfingers in this country.


was obliged to the noble Lord for having drawn his attention to this subject, which had not escaped his attention. When the House went into Committee on the sugar duties he should be prepared to state his answer to the noble Lord's observations.


begged to impress upon the Government the great influence which these things had upon every day's trade in London and Liverpool. The impression out of doors was, that two great mistakes had been committed by the Government: one, by which British West Indian raw sugar would be charged 15s. 9d. per cwt., whereas it was the intention of the Government that it should be charged only 13s.; and, secondly, that the Dutch refiner would have an advantage over the British refiner in the article of sugar, Now, he did not hear from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that either supposition was altogether unfounded; and both were operating in the market, and injuring the British owner of sugar. It might not be an occasion to go into any argument on the subject; yet, surely, the House were entitled to know whether it was the intention of Government to begin de novo with their resolutions, or whether it would be sufficient to make a change in the Bill; and, if so, what Change they intended to make.


said, there was not the least doubt that a mistake had been made in the wording of the first resolution. The question, however, turned upon the wording of the English Act, and not as to what might be the law in Jamaica. By that Act, sugar not refined was prohibited to be imported into the West Indian colonies. There was a technical distinction arising from the wording of the schedule, which he proposed to remove in Committee on the Sugar Duties, and the effect of which would be to admit sugar at the lower duty at which it was the intention of the Government it should be admitted. With regard to refined sugar, he stated on Saturday generally how the matter stood, in reply to the noble Lord's question. He was not prepared to give a more precise answer upon that question; and he would only remark, that it was inconvenient to be called upon to give an answer to such questions upon the spur of the moment, and without having the information at hand which would enable him to give a satisfactory answer. He would take the proper occasion to give a full and complete explanation upon the points raised by the noble Lord.


happened to know that the sugar refiners understood the Act of 1846 as did the Government. They were aware of the admission of sugar refined in Holland eighteen months ago; they did not object to it at this moment; and no inconvenience whatever had arisen.

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