§ On the order of the Day for the House to go into Committee on this Bill,
§ LORD G. BENTINCK
I rise to press upon the right hon. Gentleman the necessity of withdrawing the Bill and going into Committee to pass a resolution preliminary to the introduction of another measure. Sir, no satisfactory explanation has been offered as to how Her Majesty's Government proposes to deal with the difficulty I pointed out on a previous occasion. It has been attempted to show that the British Possessions Act of 1845 would override any act of the colonial legislature. Sir, I have given further study to the matter, and, whether I consider the Act itself (9 & 10 Victoria, chapter 94) or the speeches of those who introduced it, I cannot conceive but that it was intended by the Act of 1846 to empower the colonial legislature to repeal any Acts founded on the former British Possessions Act, the 8th and 9th Victoria, chapter 93. Sir, this question is important; and I beg the attention of the House, for it would be too absurd for the House to go into Committee on the details of a Bill which it would be impossible practically to work. It is said on the other side, I am aware, that the 9th and 10th Victoria did not confer on the colonial legislatures any power to re- 643 move prohibitory duties, nor to impose duties; but that it only gave power to reduce existing duties. But, I will show, first, from the speeches of those who introduced the Bill, as well as of those who opposed it, that this was not the construction they contended should be put upon it; and, next, I will show, from the acts of the colonial legislatures, that, in fact, a different construction has been put upon it by them; and that the Act has been construed in the spirit in which it was introduced; and that acts and ordinances have been passed by the colonies and allowed by the Queen in Council which have been founded upon this their construction of it. And when I have shown that this has occurred as to Jamaica, Trinidad, St. Vincent, and St. Lucie, I shall be entitled to contend that to carry the present Bill any further would be to produce the greatest embarrassment. Sir, on the 13th of August, 1846, Mr. Goulburn said (on the question that the Bill be committed)—We are called upon to give up the principle that the trade of the colonies shall be regulated by the Legislature of the mother country.The Chancellor of the Exchequer replied—That the colonies ought not to be exposed to protection averse to them, when protection to their advantage was abolished.And Lord John Russell said that—Having established free trade as the general principle, we ought to treat our colonies as we would wish to be treated ourselves, and not keep up protective duties which they themselves thought injurious.Then if the Act carried out the intentions of the Government who proposed it, on what principle could it be professed that it was not designed to empower the British colonists to remove restrictions and prohibitions framed for the protection of the British refiner? Again, upon the third reading, the Chancellor of the Exchequer is reported to have said that the Bill would not empower the colonial legislatures to impose unfair duties upon British produce. And Lord J. Russell said that the colonists might fairly urge that Parliament, having deprived them of the advantages of protection, should not give them its disadvantages. Yet, it is alleged that the Imperial Parliament did not confer upon the colonists power to repeal prohibitions protective of the British refiner. So far as the Act of 1846 was concerned, it was not affected by the import of foreign refined sugar into the colonies, for the case was 644 provided for in the Act itself. But again, in the House of Lords, Lord Ellenborough said, the Legislature had formed the opinion that it was but fair that the colonists should import our goods and those of other nations upon equal terms. How can it then be pretended that the Act was intended to prevent the colonists from repealing prohibitions? And yet that is the only ground on which it can be pretended that the British Possessions Act overrides the acts of the colonial legislatures. When the merchants, in great dismay, went to the Customs, urging that higher duties than those imposed by the present measure must be levied on sugar coming from the colonies in question, the answer was, "Oh, no! the Act 8th and 9th Victoria, chap. 93, sets all that to rights; we care not a farthing for the acts of the colonial legislatures." But let us look to the section (63) of the Act itself, which enacted that—All laws at this time or hereafter to be enacted in the colonies, Ac, in anywise repugnant to this or to any other Act of Parliament (as far as the same shall relate to the said colonies) shall be null and void,If no other Act had been passed he should have considered that the Acts of the Imperial Parliament would have overridden any acts of the colonial legislatures. But, next year, the Sugar Duties Act of 1846 was accompanied by another British Possessions Act, in which, after reciting the clause in the previous Act, it was enacted that—Whereas it was expedient to enable the legislatures of the colonies to reduce or repeal all duties of customs, so far as the same may be enforced in the said colonies respectively, such legislatures may make any act or ordinance repealing or reducing the said duties so imposed as aforesaid by the said Act, upon any articles imported into the said colonies, provided the Queen in Council shall assent to such act or ordinance, and also provided the same shall be laid upon the table of both Houses of Parliament by one of Her Majesty's Secretaries of State within thirty days of the same receiving such assent, or of the next meeting of Parliament.Now, I will concede to the Government, that the ordinances which have been passed by the four colonies I have alluded to are probably invalid by reason of an informality. But what informality? The omission on the part of the Government themselves to lay them before Parliament, though the Royal assent was given in August last, and Parliament met in November, and sat till the end of December. And surely to rely on such an objection would not be very credit- 645 able to the Government. The Assembly of Jamaica, however, acting in the spirit of the Act, have admitted foreign sugar (refined) at a duty of 20 per cent; but the island of Trinidad has admitted foreign sugar, refined or unrefined, at a duty of 5s. per cwt., and St. Lucia at 16s. per cwt. Therefore, in respect to these colonies, no sugar can, consistently with the true effect of the resolutions to which the House was agreed, be allowed to be imported at 13s. per cwt. I call the attention of the House to these facts. The resolutions passed and were in force on the 10th of July. Up to the 15th of July the old warrants were held good. The Customs had not discovered, or the Government had not discovered, their own mistake. The old warrant ran in form thus:—So many hundredweights of brown or muscovado sugar, not equal in quality to white clayed, the growth or produce of, and imported from, a. British possession in America.That was the warrant under the old Act. But there was a new heading to the resolutions; and on the 15th of July, and not till then, the Customs said that the old warrant would not do, and that they must have a new form:—So many hundredweights of brown or muscovado sugar, not equal in quality to white clayed, the growth and produce of, and imported from, a British possession into which the importation of foreign sugar is prohibited.Now, is it or is it not true, that duty has been refused to be accepted under the old warrants? Several merchants have been turned back and told that the duty could not be accepted unless they produced a warrant certifying that it was the produce of British possessions into which foreign sugar was prohibited. Many merchants said—We cannot bring such a warrant as that. As regards Jamaica it is an untruth; and we do not wish to be made responsible for an untruth of this kind.I hold in my hand a copy of the amount under which sugar pays duty, and it was after this that the Customs hit upon the British Possessions Act of 1845 as remedying the error, by prohibiting (as is alleged) de jure that admission of foreign sugar, which is de facto admitted into the colonies. But surely it would ill become the dignity of the Imperial Parliament to require merchants to make declarations inconsistent with the truth. And, therefore, it would be absurd to proceed with the present Bill, which requires such a declaration, and could not therefore be carried 646 into effect. Then, Sir, comes the question as to refined sugar. Her Majesty's Government, in introducing a measure which they hold out as one of relief to British interests, had altogether suppressed one schedule, the effect of which was to keep out all the refined sugar of the Continent, and then had admitted foreign refined sugar at exactly the same duty at which refined sugar from Brazil, or from Cuba, or from porto Rico, might have been admitted under the old Act. It was not easy to ascertain the amount of the bounty granted by the Dutch Government upon the export; but it is variously estimated at 3s. and 5s. per cwt.; and the effect of the Ministerial measure had been, that the price of Dutch refined sugar had been raised by 2s. or 3s. per cwt., and the price of British refined had been reduced by the same amount; so much so, that it was no sooner understood for the first time on Monday last that Dutch refined sugar had come in on these terms, than a complete stagnation occurred in the sugar trade. But as far as the sugar refiners themselves are concerned, what is their position? On the 18th five vessels arrived in the port of London from Cuba, laden with sugar, which could not be entered to be refined for home consumption. But that sugar could be sent to Amsterdam, to be there refined, and brought back again to the English market, with the Dutch bounty upon it. What chance had the English refiner to compete with that? Now, Sir, on this point I am informed that an amendment—not imposing a higher duty—might (though it is a matter of nicety) take place in the Bill. But it would be a more convenient course to withdraw it altogether, and begin again. Nobody can believe that the Government knew what they were about when they inflicted this heavy blow on the refiners; or if they did, then it makes the matter infinitely worse that this should have been done in a measure of professed protection, and without any avowal of an intention to alter the duty to their disadvantage. I trusted that on this ground alone, and in order that there may be a fair opportunity for discussing this point, which was not understood before, when the House was in Committee on the resolutions—and which point has been, as it were, concealed by the Government—that Her Majesty's Ministers will withdraw this Bill, and move for a Committee of the whole House again. But, Sir, if these changes be not sufficient, I am pre- 647 pared to open a new budget of blunders, and expose no less than twenty-three arithmetical errors in the schedules of the Act. And when I have exposed these errors, the House will agree with me that we ought not to be asked to proceed further with this Bill. I must premise that all the duties are based on that which is levied upon "muscovado" as a basis, which, in railway language, is called the datum line; and it is assumed that the duties are paid according to value, the value of molasses being taken at 37½ per cent of that of muscovado; white clay as one-sixth; single refined, one-fifth; double refined, one half. I have no fault to find with the first schedule of duties; but when I come to the second schedule (as to British possessions to which the importation of foreign sugar is not excluded) I find that the first figure of the scale, being candy or double refined sugar, stood at 1l. 3s. 4d., whereas it ought to be 1l. 3s. 7d. There is no other mistake in that rank, and indeed there are no mistakes in the first four columns, because they are the old duties, and the figures have, I presume, been drawn up by the old hands. The errors are—
The next table (as to brown clay) is, I believe, the hon. Member for Westbury's—and I really cannot discover what is matter of mistake—for I cannot find out on what principle it is framed; it appears so irregular. But as to molasses, the errors go through the whole table—
£ s. d. £ s. d. Double refined sugar 1 3 4 for 1 3 7 Single refined sugar (1852) 0 15 0 for 0 15 4¼ Ditto (1853) 0 14 2 for 0 14 8 White clayed sugar (1852) 0 13 3 for 0 13 5 Ditto (1853) 0 12 5 for 0 12 10
Then, as to the third schedule, the blunders (as in the former one) begin with the new duties—
s. d. s. d. 1848–9 5 7 instead of 5 4 1849–50 5 3 instead of 5 5 1850–51 4 9 instead of 4 5 1851–52 4 4 instead of 4 6 1852–53 4 1 instead of 4 4 1853–54 3 11 instead of 4 1½
The "brown clay" table is hero again the hon. Member for Westbury's, and really it is so full of irregularities that it is impos- 648 sible to understand it; and if, as Pope and Burke say, irregularities are the incidents of greatness," the bon. Member must be great indeed. Coming to the last table, where, as the duty reaches the lowest point, one would have thought there could have been no mistake, the parties who constructed it have contrived (so so speak) to put the right boot on the wrong leg, for the duties which ought to be for 1849–50 have been given to 1848–49; those which ought to be for 1850–51 have been given to 1849–50; and those for 1851–52, have been given to 1850–51; and so on through the scale. Then, in the first column of the third schedule the figures 6s. 4d. ought to have been 6s. 11d.; in the second, 5s. 11d. ought to have been 6s. 4d.; in the third, 5s. 4d. ought to have been 5s. 9d.; in the fourth, 4s. 11d. ought to have been 5s. 3d.; in the fifth, 4s. 6d. ought to have been 4s. 11d.; and in the sixth column, 4s. 1d. ought to have been 4s. 6d. That is the sum total of the whole. Am I then asking too much in calling upon the House to throw out altogether these columns of blundering legislation, or else to postpone the Bill?
s. d. s. d. Double refined (1852) 19 0 for 19 6 Ditto (1853) 17 0 for 18 0 Single refined (1852) 10 8 for 17 4 Ditto (1853) 15 2 for 16 0 White clayed (1852) 14 9 for 15 2 Ditto (1853) 13 2 for 14 0
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, it would be very difficult for him then to go through all the points to which the noble Lord had called attention; on the contrary, it appeared to him that the most convenient course would be to go into Committee on the Bill, and then discuss each objection separately. As to the manner in which the debate on this subject had been carried on, he would only say, that every sort of subject had been mixed up into one confused mass; and clearly the better way of arriving at a satisfactory conclusion would be to take each question separately, if it would suit the convenience of the House to go then into Committee on the Bill.
§ MR. GOULBURN
agreed very much with what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman; but he hoped he might be excused if, before they went into Committee, he sought for some information. If the propositions which the right hon. Gentleman had to make in Committee would lead to an increase of the duties on sugar, it was evident that such propositions could not be entertained in a Committee on the Bill, but must previously be proposed in a Committee of the whole House. Other hon. Members might have different duties to propose in a Committee of the whole House, and therefore he thought it expe- 649 dient that the plans of the Government should be laid before the House before the Speaker left the chair.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, the only alterations which he should have to propose would consist of reductions in the colonial scale. As to the Bill for refining sugar in bond, it formed no part of the present measure.
§ MR. DISRAELI
observed, that the statement of his noble Friend near him was quite clear. The point which he had made was this, that in the present measure there was such an agglomeration of errors, that it was not expedient to go into Committee on such a measure. In his opinion the House ought to show its sense of the impropriety of bringing before them a piece of such crude and immature legislation. The House should show that it had no confidence in a measure so saturated with error as the Bill before them. If his noble Friend resolved to take the sense of the House on going into Committee, he should certainly vote with him.
MR. CARD WELL
said, there was some doubt as to what the rates of duty would be on single and double refined sugar, as contrasted with the scale of 1846. By the schedule of the Bill of 1846, refined sugar was to pay a duty of 28s. 6d., when raw sugar paid 20s.; and when the (duty on refined sugar descended to 24s. 8d., then the duty on raw sugar was to sink to 18s. 6d.; but it now appeared that, practically, the duty was to be 1l, on raw sugar, while 24s. 8d. was that which was payable on refined sugar. The question now was, whether, when they went into Committee on the Bill, they could raise any duty whatever? He thought they should have some explanation before they went into Committee.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
replied, that the question put by the hon. Gentleman was a matter of pure detail, and he should answer it after the House had gone into Committee.
§ MR. M. GIBSON
begged to remind the House that a colonial act was overruled by any Act of the Imperial Legislature. In reply to the observations of the noble Lord the Member for Lynn, he contended that the scale of duties was correct. With respect to the tariff, they could not allow one part of it, and disallow another.
§ House in Committee.
§ Upon the 1st Clause,
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, he hoped the Committee would 650 believe that he wished, as much as possible, to avoid any ambiguity in framing the measure now before them; and he thought that the most satisfactory mode of treating the matter under consideration would be, to deal one by one with the charges which the noble Lord had brought forward. Either the Bill was open to the charge of inaccuracy, or it was not; and, for the purpose of ascertaining how far such a charge rested upon a solid foundation, he should propose to confine himself, in the first instance, to the heading of the first schedule—that which related to the admission of sugar. But before he adverted to that subject, he wished to say that a mistake had occurred with respect to what he had said on Wednesday last. The supposed demand with respect to higher duties had not been made; and there had been no such representation on the part of the Customs as was stated, though it became necessary to alter the warrant, in order to make it in conformity with the Resolution of the House of Commons. With respect to the heading of the schedule, very soon after the Act of 1846 had been passed, Mr. Lefevre suggested that all cases were not in fact included under the schedule, and, therefore, that, if ever an alteration should be made in the terms of the schedule, it would he advisable that the alteration should be so made as to include all places. Thus, for example, under the old Act, if sugars were imported from the coast of Africa, it would not be possible to levy upon such sugars the amount of duty payable upon colonial sugars. The general wording of the Bill explained what each description of sugar was to pay, and this was done in every case under its proper head in each column; but it was an express condition that the introduction of foreign sugars into our colonies should be prohibited, in order to entitle their sugar to come in at the lowest rate of duty. The necessity for this was well explained in a letter written in the year 1839 by Mr. Deacon Hume, to which letter he should hereafter have occasion to refer; but at present he should confine himself to stating that Mr. Hume showed in his letter that they could not prevent any of our colonies being made the medium of importing foreign sugars, otherwise than by expressly prohibiting any importation of foreign sugars into the British colonies. When a power of importing sugars from the East Indies was granted, a distinction was made between those parts of India into which the importation of foreign sugar 651 was prohibited, and those in which no such prohibition existed. He begged to remind hon. Members that this state of the law existed even before the last British Possessions Act had been passed. So much was this the case, that some parties formerly contended that even foreign sugar refined in this country could not be sent to any of our colonies, for though by undergoing the process of refinement here it might in some degree he considered a British production, yet in the state of the law as it then existed, such sugar could not be imported into British colonies. He conceived that no better proof than this could be adduced of the stringency of the prohibition to which he had thus referred. Mr. Deacon Hume, in the letter which he bad above referred to, set right the misapprehension as to refined sugar, which was to be considered as a British manufacture. In order, however, to prevent mistakes, the British Possessions Act, introduced by the right hon. Gentleman opposite in 1845, made a distinct ex-emption from that prohibition in favour of sugar refined here in bond. The noble Lord had referred to that as an old Act, a musty old Act, which he said had been recently discovered. [Lord G. BENTINCK: I did not use the word "musty"—that word is yours; I spoke of it as the Act of 1845, the 8th and 9th of Victoria.] An Act passed three years ago could not be considered an old Act. The sixth clause of that Act of 1845 distinctly prohibited the importation of sugar, being foreign produce or manufacture, into any of the British possessions on the continent of America, or into the West Indies; and the clause went on to say that if such sugar were imported it should be forfeited, together with the vessel when of a certain tonnage, and that any colonial law against this prohibition should be null and void. But the noble Lord said that the colonial legislatures might repeal that in consequence of the Act of 1846; and the noble Lord had favoured the House with extracts from speeches which had really nothing to do with the question. What was the reason of the introduction of that Act? When they diminished the protection in favour of the colonies by admitting foreign sugar into this country, they said that if protection in favour of the colonies was taken away, it ought not to be maintained against them, and therefore power was given to the colonies of repealing or reducing all the differential duties imposed 652 by the Imperial Legislature for the benefit of the manufacturers of this country on articles of foreign manufacture imported into the colonies. The whole power of the Act applied to the repeal or reduction of such duties; and there was not a syllable in the Act applying to the case of prohibitions. The colonies might reduce or repeal any of the imperial duties imposed by the British Possessions Act of 1845; but they were not at liberty to repeal any of those prohibitions imposed for a purpose very different from that for which the duties were imposed. What was the title of the British Possessions Act of 1846? It was an Act to enable the legislatures of certain British possessions to reduce or repeal certain Customs duties set forth in a certain schedule. That was the whole of the Act, and there was not one single syllable in it about repealing prohibitions. Indeed, it would have been manifestly absurd to have enabled our colonies to repeal prohibitions which were passed for the sake of preventing fraud on this country; though it was reasonable, under the circumstances, to give the power of repealing or reducing those duties which were imposed by the Imperial Legislature for the purpose of protecting the produce and manufactures of this country. The noble Lord went on to say, that, nevertheless, there were four colonial tariff's in existence imposing duties on foreign sugar. No doubt there were, and no doubt they had the sanction of the Crown; but the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gibson) had explained how it happened that it was not expedient to disallow those items in the tariffs. But the mere imposition of a duty on an article the importation of which was prohibited, did not allow of the importation of that article; and any colonial act contrary to the British Possessions Act would be null and void. The noble Lord talked of the Customs Department being ignorant of all this. Now, he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) had in his hand a letter from the Collector and Comptroller of the Customs in Jamaica, dated the 8th of March, 1848, referring to a case in point. It happened that by some inadvertence one cask of foreign refined sugar had been admitted into Jamaica; and as soon as the Customs in this country discovered the circumstance, a letter was written to the Collector at Jamaica drawing his attention to the circumstance; but he had found out the error himself before the receipt of the note from England, and he stated— 653In reply to the letter on the subject of admitting one cask of foreign refined sugar into Jamaica, we ourselves discovered the error, but it was too late to remedy it; but we shall take care that it does not occur again.Therefore, so far from the Customs Department being ignorant on the subject, both the Custom-house here and the Custom-house in Jamaica understood the Law that the admission of foreign sugar was prohibited in Jamaica. The noble Lord might perceive that there might be reasons why a duty should exist in a colonial tariff on sugar, even when the article was not admissible there. Though not probable, it was not impossible, that the British Legislature might repeal the British Possessions Act; and in such case, if foreign sugar were not in the colonial tariff, it would then be introduced into the colony duty free. Consequently the imposition of a duty in the tariff was a provision for a possible case; and his belief was that there was an act of the local legislature in existence in Jamaica by which a duty was imposed on foreign refined sugar, and probably under the sanction of the Crown. [Cheers from the Opposition.] The noble Lord and hon. Gentlemen opposite cheered that statement, us if the mere imposition of a duty in the tariff rendered the article admissible. Why, take the case of any article on which a duty might be levied in this country, and which was admissible if it came in a British ship, or in a ship belonging to the most favoured nation. That duty was levied on it when it was admissible; but if it came in a ship not belonging to either of those classes, then the navigation laws interposed and rendered its admission impossible. So it was in this case. Supposing there was a duty in some of the colonial tariffs on foreign sugar, still those tariffs could not, and did not, override the British Possessions Act so as to render the sugar admissible in spite of that Act; but if that Act were repealed so as to make foreign sugar admissible into those colonies where it war now prohibited, then the duty would take effect. The importation of foreign sugar into any of the West Indian Islands was prohibited; and it was necessary that it should be so prohibited in order to entitle those colonies to send their sugar to this country at the lowest rate of duty; for if this prohibition did not exist, there might be means of introducing foreign sugar into this country at a rate of duty not properly attached to it. This prohibition, consequently, was the condition upon which our colonists were permitted to import their 654 sugar into this country at the lowest rate of duty.
§ MR. BARKLY
said, that what the importers of West Indian sugar complained of was, not an imaginary grievance. They were now, for the first time, called on to declare that the admission of foreign sugar was prohibited in the colonies whence their sugar came; and this they conscientiously objected to do. In the tariff of every one of our West Indian colonies there was a rate of duty for the admission of foreign sugar; and practically also, foreign sugar was not excluded. It would be seen, by reference to the papers published in 1846, giving the exports and imports for ton years, that there was not one of the West Indian colonies into which foreign, sugar was not practically admitted, such a duty being imposed as would he equivalent to the differential duty in order to prevent fraud. In Barbadoes, raw sugar, the produce of the foreign West Indies, had been admitted in 1843 to the extent of 741,216 lb., or about, 300 tons, notwithstanding the operation of the British Possessions Act. That sugar was admitted at a duty of 12s. 9d.; and in the case of Demerara the fact was still stronger. Under these circumstances, as the alteration in the heading of the schedule gave rise to trouble and difficulty, he thought that the words of the Act of 1846 ought to be restored.
The ATTORNEY GENERAL
said, that the simple question was, what was the legal construction of the Act of Parliament? Foreign sugar was prohibited to be imported into certain British possessions; and the fact of its having at any time been admitted into any one of them was no proof of the legality of such admission. The importers of West Indian sugar were only, in effect, called on to say that foreign sugar was not legally admissible into the places whence their sugar came. The noble Lord produced a tariff with reference to the importation of foreign sugar into Jamaica; but that tariff was not sanctioned by an Act of Parliament, and was therefore null and void. If the noble Lord's twenty-three objections were not more formidable than the present one, there was little to fear from them.
§ MR. CARDWELL
said, that the complaint was, that the importers of Jamaica sugar were inconvenienced by a cloud of confusion which had been thrown over the subject. Now, this was a very serious complaint, and the question was, what had it arisen from? It had arisen from an 655 alteration in the shape of the schedule, in consequence of which the merchants found themselves called upon to sign a different document from what they had been accustomed to sign before, which seemed to show that there was some doubt and difficulty in the matter; and the parties in the City, who were not so well versed in law as the Attorney General was, were in a state of embarrassment. If, however, notice had been given at first, when the schedule was altered—if the attention of the parties interested had been drawn to it—if they had been told that the effect of the alteration in the schedule would be to leave the law where it was, and that although they had to sign a different document from what they had formerly done, they were running-no risk in respect to the duties; if this had been done at first, no confusion would have arisen. The moment it did practically arise in the business, various questions were asked in that House in order that public attention might be drawn to it; but the hon. Members who put the questions were told, rather unreasonably, he thought, to wait until they were in Committee on the Sugar Duties; and, in the meantime, they were refused all information. Now, he thought that the inconvenience to which the trade was put by changes, of which notice had not been given, was very much under-rated in that House, and it was exceedingly desirable that when such changes were made, the attention of parties should be drawn to them.
§ MR. JAMES WILSON
said, that there was no person in that House who was less disposed than himself to estimate lightly the inconvenience suffered by the trade, either from this or any other cause; but he was satisfied that the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down—probably from misinformation—had very much exaggerated both the cause and the effect. The resolutions did not come into operation till the 12th; the warrants were prepared, according to the new form, by the 15th; and he had reason to believe that, since then, no party had been at all inconvenienced. For before the questions had been put in that House on the subject, he heard a rumour in the City that some difficulty had been felt on the matter; and he asked the Chairman of the Customs about it, and was informed that, although one gentleman had demurred to signing the required declaration, a message was sent to him next morning, and the matter satisfactorily explained.
§ LORD G. BENTINCK
knew that considerable inconvenience had been felt in consequence of several gentlemen, who had called at the Custom-house for the purpose of relieving their sugar from bond, having to return back because they were not provided with warrants.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
, with reference to the remarks of the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Card-well), begged to say, that, although he refused to give the noble Lord the Member for Lynn (Lord G. Bentinck) a full answer to his question till the House was in Committee on the Sugar Duties Bill, he stated generally that, by the British Possessions Act, foreign sugar was prohibited from being imported into the colonies.
§ MR. BARKLY
said, that yesterday one of the deputation who waited upon the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, stated that he had been called upon to make a declaration in case of some sugar he had imported from St. Lucia, and that he felt he could not, as a man of honour, do so.
§ LORD G. BENTINCK
said, that the question was not, as to what was the law, so much as to what was the fact. Was sugar imported into our various colonies, or was it not? Now, he had shown that such sugar had been imported, and that the duty had been paid to the Queen's Custom-house officers. How, then, could any man, consistently with truth, sign a warrant to the effect that the sugar which came from any of those colonies was imported from a colony or country where the importation of foreign sugar was prohibited? If this law passed, the matter would remain as it was at this moment; and every such warrant that was signed would be a falehood. Was it desirable that the House of Commons should pass an Act of Parliament which should oblige 300 or 400 false warrants to be signed every day of the year?
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
remarked, that the noble Lord's argument proceeded upon a fale assumption. The merchants were not called upon to sign a declaration that their sugar came from a colony into which foreign sugar was not de facto imported, but merely where the importation of foreign sugar was prohibited.
§ MR. GOULBURN
believed that, at all events, there was considerable confusion on the subject. It was, no doubt, true that the importation of foreign sugar into 657 the colonies was prohibited under the British Possessions Act: but when they found from a return laid before Parliament, and which came from the Queen's Customhouse, that a certain quantity of foreign sugar had actually been imported into these colonies—for he did not apprehend that the Custom-house authorities would give them a return of the smuggled article, but only that which had been legally imported—he must say that there was sufficient confusion to justify some doubt on the part of persons making the required declaration. He thought the inconvenience complained of would be removed if the clause run thus:—On sugar or molasses the growth and produce of any British possession in America, or of any other British colony into which the importation of foreign sugar is prohibited," &c.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
was sorry to resist any suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman; but as the adoption of the Amendment would imply that there was a doubt in regard to the taw, and as he did not think there was any reasonable doubt in the matter, he felt bound to oppose it.
§ MR. BARKLY
thought it was not treating the sugar trade fairly to refuse them this request. The Chancellor of the Exchequer seemed to think that the merchants had found a mare's nest. He begged to tell the right hon. Gentleman that they bad a much more valuable occupation than engaging in such a search; but having found that there was considerable hardship in being called upon to make a declaration which they could not conscientiously make, they did not think it too much to ask to be relieved from this difficulty.
§ On the question that the words he inserted, the House divided:—Ayes 28; Noes 73: Majority 45.
|List of the AYES.|
|Anstey, T. C.||Haggitt, F. R.|
|Baillie, H. J.||Halsey, T. P.|
|Bankes, G.||Hamilton, G. A.|
|Bateson, T.||Herries, rt. hon. J. C.|
|Bentinck, Lord G.||Hildyard, T. B. T.|
|Buck, L. W.||Keogh, W.|
|Cardwell, E.||Neeld, J.|
|Christy, S.||Peel, rt. hon. Sir R.|
|Clerk, rt. hon. Sir G.||Sadlier, J.|
|Corry, rt. hon. H. L.||Townshend, Capt.|
|Deedes, W.||Vivian, J. E.|
|Disraeli, B.||Vyse, R. H. R. H.|
|Gladstone, rt. hn. W. E.||TELLERS.|
|Goulburn, rt. hon. H.||Barkly, H.|
|Gwyn, H.||Miles, P.|
|List of the NOES.|
|Abdy, T. N.||Jervis, Sir J.|
|Adair, R. A. S.||Labouchere, rt. hon. H.|
|Anderson, A.||Lascelles, hon. W. S.|
|Anson, hon. Col.||M'Cullagh, W. T.|
|Armstrong, Sir A.||M'Gregor, J.|
|Armstrong, R. B.||Martin, J.|
|Bagshaw, J.||Maule, rt. hon. F.|
|Baring, rt. hn. Sir F. T.||Mitchell, T. A.|
|Barnard, E. G.||Morpeth, Visct.|
|Bellew, R. M.||Morison, Sir W.|
|Berkeley, hon. Capt.||Morris, D.|
|Brand, T.||Paget, Lord C.|
|Brotherton, J.||Palmerston, Visct.|
|Brown, W.||Parker, J.|
|Butler, P. S.||Perfect, R.|
|Callaghan, D.||Pilkington, J.|
|Campbell, hon. W. F.||Pinney, W.|
|Cavendish, hon. C. C.||Price, Sir R.|
|Clay, J.||Rich, H.|
|Cobden, R.||Russell, Lord J.|
|Cowper, hon. W. F.||Rutherfurd, A.|
|Craig, W. G.||Salwey, Col.|
|Crawford, W. S.||Scrope, G. P.|
|Duncan, G.||Smith, J. B.|
|Duncuft, J.||Somerville, rt. hn. Sir W.|
|Fagan, W.||Stuart, Lord D.|
|Ferguson, Sir R. A.||Sullivan, M.|
|Forster, M.||Tennent, R. J.|
|Gibson, rt. hon. T. M.||Thicknesse, R. A.|
|Greene, J.||Tompson, Col.|
|Grey, rt. hon. Sir G.||Thornely, T.|
|Hastie, A.||Turner, E.|
|Hawes, B.||Ward, H. G.|
|Hayter, W. G.||Wilson, J.|
|Heathcote, J.||Wood, rt. hon. Sir C.|
|Hodges, T. L.||Tufnell, H.|
|Hume, J.||Hill, Lord M.|
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
wished to take this opportunity of stating the views of the Government with reference to the admission of refined sugars. The Act of 1846 prevented the introduction of foreign refined sugars; but since that measure was passed, the Dutch Government had represented to Her Majesty's Government that Belgian refined sugar made from beetroot grown in Belgium was clearly admissible under the provisions of that Act; and they had claimed, as by treaty they were placed on the footing of the most favoured nations, that sugar refined in Holland should be admitted for consumption in this country. Mr. Deacon Hume had contended, and this country had always maintained, that foreign sugar refined in this country must be considered as the produce of this country, and was entitled to be considered as such irrespective of the place of its growth. He certainly thought that on the principle thus laid down it would be inconsistent with the good faith and honesty which ought to be observed towards foreign nations to exclude Dutch refined sugars from our markets. Then, it being, in 659 the opinion of the Government, impossible to exclude such sugar, the question arose as to the rate of duty to be imposed. He conceived that the rate of duty at which foreign refined sugar was admitted into this country should he the same at which sugar refined in this country was to be allowed to come into consumption. The only parties who could object to such an arrangement were the British refiners, who might claim some protection against the foreign refiners. The reasons they might urge for such protection were the bounty given by the Dutch Government to refiners, and the navigation laws of this country. With regard to the bounty given by the Dutch Government, he believed that the English refiners who refined in bond were able to compete successfully with the Dutch refiners in those countries and their markets; and therefore it was clear that the bounty given by the Dutch Government was of no great advantage to the Dutch refiners. He had been informed, that so little did the Dutch refiners value the bounty given to them, that they had applied to the Dutch Government for permission to adopt the system pursued in this country—to re-fine in bond. If the Dutch refiners were of opinion that refining in bond without drawback was more advantageous than refining with drawback, it must be clear to the House that they attached very little value to the bounty. The next ground upon which British refiners might urge a claim to protection was, the disadvantage under which they might be supposed to labour with respect to the navigation laws; but he thought any disadvantage they might suffer in this respect would not be of long continuance, for he hoped that in the next Session of Parliament a measure would be adopted which would obviate this complaint. The only other parties interested were the West India producers; they might object to the admission into this country of foreign refined sugar at such a rate of duty as would put them in a worse situation with respect to foreign refined sugar than they were in with respect to foreign unrefined sugar. He believed, however, that the measure proposed by the Government would give the same protection to the West India colonies with respect to foreign refined sugar as was afforded them against raw sugar. He considered that the duty upon colonial refined sugar was too high; and he therefore proposed to reduce the duty upon colonial double-refined sugar from 19s. 6d. to 18s., and upon single-refined sugar from 17s. 660 4d. to 16s. He believed it would then be a matter of indifference to the colonial producer whether he paid a duty of 13s. upon raw sugar, or whether he had it refined in bond. He considered that this would be a great boon to the consumers, because the means would he afforded of bringing into the market a much larger quantity of sugar than was now available. He believed that the real interests of the West India proprietors depended upon an increased consumption of their produce, and that any measure which tended to promote that increased consumption must be most advantageous to them. He believed the refiners of this country had received a price more than remunerative for the cost of refining. The difference between raw and refined sugar was some time since more than 14l. a ton; and of late years it had been 18l. a ton. The reduction of prices on the raw material was equivalent to 36 per cent; but the reduction in the cost of the refined sugar was not at all in due proportion. He therefore thought it was quite consistent with sound principle to introduce a certain amount of foreign refined sugar for home consumption. If the price of refined sugar should be somewhat reduced, it would not be equal to the reduction in the price of raw sugar. The price of the manufactured article had been unduly kept up of late years; and he considered that, while by the proposed alteration in the duties the interest of the consumer was consulted, the interest of the West Indian producer would not in any degree be injured. He therefore proposed a reduction of the duty of 19s. 6d. on double refined sugar in the first column of the first schedule to 18s., being the duty in the second column of the first schedule; and a reduction in the duty of 17s. 4d. on other refined sugar in the first column of the first schedule to 16s., being the duty specified in the second column of the first schedule. He proposed also a similar reduction of the duty specified in the first column of the second schedule from 1l. 3s. 4d. on double refined sugar to 1l. 1s. 9d., and from 1l. 1s. on other refined sugar to 19s. 4d.; and a reduction in the first column of the third schedule from 1l. 7s. 9d. on double refined sugar to 1l. 5s. 6d., and from 1l. 4s. 8d. on other refined sugar to 1l. 2s. 8d. He admitted there were inaccuracies in the further columns, which were of small importance, and which he proposed to correct in the Committee on the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving that the 661 duty on double refined sugar be reduced from 19s. 6d to 18s.
§ MR. GLADSTONE
felt great anxiety with respect to the question of the treaty between this country and Holland. The right hon. Gentleman had intimated an opinion that this country had no discretion in the matter, but were bound by that treaty to admit the refined sugar of Hob land, although made from materials not the produce of Holland, upon the same terms as sugar produced in Belgium—that, in point of fact, they had no right to draw a distinction with respect to the country of production, but only with reference to the country of manufacture. He thought it was dangerous to lay down that principle, and say that it ought to constitute the general rule of their legislation. He did not, however, wish to tie up the hands of the Legislature from introducing exceptions. He questioned the doctrine that they were bound by their treaty with Holland to admit her sugar, refined from raw sugar produced in the tropics, upon the same terms as the sugar refined in Belgium, produced from beetroot grown in Belgium. It was the practice of Russia to make a distinction in regard to Cuba sugar—that distinction turning upon the point, whether the sugar had received a given state of refinement in this country, or in the country of its production. Russia laid a higher duty upon Cuba sugar, which had been brought to a given state of refinement in this country, than that which would have been imposed upon it if it had been refined in the country where it was grown. That country had a right to make a distinction in respect of the materials of which any article imported might be manufactured. It was a distinction of which there were traces in our own laws. He would quote two instances, one from the British Possessions Act of 1832. In that Act sugar refined in England from colonial sugar was made admissible into the British North American colonies free of duty; but sugar refined in this country in bond from foreign materials was made admissible at a duty of 10l per cent. The next instance, though small in its area of operation, was equally good, as proving the principle. By the 5th Section of the 5th and 6th Victoria, cap. 47, it was enacted that all manufactures imported into this country from the Channel Islands of Guernsey, Jersey, Alderney, and Sark, when made of materials of foreign origin or produce, should, for the purpose of duty, be deemed and taken to be produce imported from a 662 foreign country. That was a case perfectly in point in every respect. If, then, they had a right to make that distinction as regarded their own colonies, they were entitled to recognise and enforce the principle as against foreign countries. He deemed it impolitic to impose restrictions on this country by giving to a treaty a construction which it did not properly bear. On that account he protested against the doctrine of the right hon. Gentleman. It was a question which must be judged on principle and policy alone.
§ MR. CARDWELL
said, it was quite clear that the West Indian planter was interested in this being the result of the measure before them, namely, that the refiner should not derive, by means of a protective duty, an undue profit. To that argument he entirely subscribed. The question, therefore, was, whether the proposed duties on single and double refined sugars, or the duties as set out in the Act of 1846, were the proper equivalents? Before they could decide this question it was necessary to know what the arrangements for refining sugar in bond were to be. At present no statement had been made on that point. Should the calculations of the right hon. Gentleman be not correct, the most serious consequences might result. Those who had spoken to him on the subject were not prepared to admit that a duty of 1l. 6s. 8d. operated as a protection, but they contended it was nothing more than a fair protection; therefore a duty of 1l. 4s. 8d. would be an inequality, and would operate as a protection to foreign refiners as against English refiners. It was also quite clear that the foreign refiner would produce sugar at an advantage over the home refiner, in consequence of the navigation laws. The hon. Gentleman concluded by asking whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer had any objection to furnish the information upon which his calculations had been made?
§ MR. BARKLY
had received a note from a large refiner in this country, stating, that he considered a duty of 1l. 4s. 8d. on refined sugar was equivalent to a duty of 18s. 5d. on the raw material, leaving the treacle out of the calculation. With respect to refining in bond, that might be a very excellent thing for the colonies in the course of a year or two; but in the meantime what would be the effect of the competition with foreign refiners? It would be such as to make the position of the West Indians much worse than that in which they formerly stood. He understood that 663 within the last few days the sum of 70,000l. had been invested in a Dutch sugar refinery (the proprietors of which had been obliged to stop payment) owing to the impulse given to the refining of sugar in Holland by the proposal of the British Government.
§ MR. JAMES WILSON
said, the question to be considered was, whether the duty levied on foreign refined sugar was the equivalent of the duty levied by the Government on foreign raw sugar. A great many experiments had been made in an extensive sugar refinery and by the Board of Trade, which established the accuracy of the calculations adopted by the Government. If the Dutch Government chose to give a drawback on sugar exported, that was no affair of the British Government, who were bound by treaty; and whether that bounty would operate in favour of the Dutch refiners or not, was a subject which the House were not competent to entertain. One of our sugar refiners had assured him that he did not fear the competition of the Dutch refiners in the neutral markets, and that he was perfectly satisfied with the protection he had in the resolutions proposed by the Government. The statement of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Barkly) respecting the resuscitation of a sugar refinery in Holland, was not exactly correct. The refinery in question had never been stopped; and, three weeks ago, before there could have been any knowledge of the intentions of our Government, arrangements were made for carrying on that concern as a joint-stock company, and the sum of money mentioned by the hon. Member was subscribed; these proceedings had therefore no reference whatever to the present Bill. He agreed with the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) that if they were beginning de novo to make arrangements with foreign Governments, they would have a right to make a condition as to the origin of the raw materials of manufacture to be imported; but when once those treaties were made it was not competent to superadd any such conditions. He believed that the advantage to the Dutch refiners in the drawback allowed by their Government was much less than was commonly believed; and it should not be forgotten that the British refiners were further protected against their Dutch rivals by the cost of bringing the sugar from Holland to this country, which was equivalent to a protection of from 1s. 6d. to 2s. 6d. per cwt. in their favour, according to the quality of the 664 sugar. While, therefore, the British refiners were placed upon a footing of equality with the foreign refiners, they had the further advantage of being close to their market.
§ LORD G. BENTINCK
did not deny that the reductions of duty on double refined sugar from 19s. 6d. to 18s., and on single refined from 17s. 4d. to 16s., with the proposal to permit British refiners to refine in bond, were, taken together, a very great boon to the British planter. But he was sorry to hear the Government talking of the above forming a measure that would take a long time in preparing. Unless they had an assurance from the Government that before the Session passed over, the measure should be prepared, matured, and passed, the sugar interests would be in a curious condition. They were now at the end of July; and if it would take a long while to mature this schedule of duties and pass it into an Act of Parliament, the colonies would get the unfavourable part of the measure, and would not obtain the countervailing boon. This measure of the Government was a mode of carrying out the plan of an ad valorem duty, which was in all respects the most desirable. In the first place, it encouraged the colonies to bring their produce to this country in the most crude and least manufactured form, thereby saving the labour which was so valuable in the colonies. Then, in proportion as the produce was brought over in a crude state, its bulk was largely increased, and that was an advantage to the shipping interests, while it must add largely to the business of the British refiners. Therefore in all respects he highly approved of the plan of the Government, if they only carried out their object; but he heard both out of that House and in the House that great practical difficulties surrounded the question; and that if they allowed the Government to pass this measure without the other, the sugar interests would be left with the bad part of the Government measure, and would not get the good. He believed the price of sugar imported in unprivileged ships was 2s. 6d. per cwt. less than that imported in privileged ships, and that was consequently the protection in this country which the navigation laws gave to the British planter. The advantage of the Dutch refiner for the next twelve months would be 2s. 6d. per cwt., there being 17,000 tons of foreign sugar in the united kingdom in unprivileged ships, which were worth 2s. 6d. less than the sugar of similar quality imported in privileged ships. It was quite clear that the navigation laws would 665 for this year give the Dutch refiner au advantage of 2s. 6d. per cwt. over the English refiner, in sugars for home consumption. He held in his hand two samples of Dutch sugar, the price of one of which, on Saturday last, was 23s., and on Monday, after the explanations made in that Mouse, the price of the same sugar in bond rose to 25s. The other sample was of single refined Dutch sugar, of which the price was 21s. 3d. ten days ago, but which rose to such a figure as to establish a difference of 7s. 7d. With respect to the assertion of the Government that the Dutch were entitled to insist on the admission of their refined sugar, he wanted to know how the Government reconciled their pre-sent statement with their statement of the 30th of May last, that they did not intend to alter the Sugar Act of 1846; because by that Act they imposed those differential duties, and by the 6th Clause obliged shipmasters or consignees to prove that the sugar, if imported at those rates of duty, was bonâ fide the produce of the country from which it was imported. What had the "favoured nation" clause to do with the question? 'They took from Cuba and from Belgium sugar which was the produce of those countries. They would take from Holland beetroot sugar, which was the growth and produce of that country. But that, as regarded sugar imported into Holland, Holland should presume to claim a greater degree of favour than was accorded to Cuba, Tort Rico, Brazil, the United States, or the British colonies, implied a construction of the Act for which he could see no foundation.
§ Amendments made.
§ Bill reported.