§ House in Committee.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
considered it necessary to state, at the earliest possible opportunity, the course the Government proposed to pursue with regard to this subject, and the reasons which had induced them to adopt that course. With regard to some inaccuracies which had been pointed out in one of the schedules, as to the duties upon refined sugar and upon brown clayed sugar the produce of colonies, they might be corrected in Committee. The principal alteration which had been made, and which was shown in the paper delivered to Members of that House, was the consolidation of the duties upon double and single refined sugar. He was sorry to say that the result of the communications he had had with his hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Mr. J. Wilson), and which they had together had with sugar refiners, had led the Government to conclude that, at present, 1043 they could not introduce a measure allowing the refining of sugar in bond. He (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) was far from underrating the importance of such a measure, if it could be carried into effect with due regard to the interests of the revenue and of those concerned in the sugar refining trade; but no pains had been spared by the Government in obtaining information on the subject, and the result was that they could not see their way to a practical and satisfactory measure. Such a measure to be satisfactory to all parties must be a compulsory measure. It must not only provide that persons might be permitted to refine in bond, but, if refining in bond were permitted, it must also be required that all refining be carried on in bond. He thought it must be evident that the main object sought by refining in bond was to get rid of the disadvantages of what were called "the uniform duties upon all classes," and to substitute what would be equivalent to an ad valorem duty; but he did not think this object would be effected by such a measure. Such a measure would not be fair unless it was compulsory; everything that came out of the refinery must be subject to some duty or other. One objection which had been taken to such a measure was (as we understood) that, as it would impose a duty of some amount on all the produce of the refiner, a duty must be levied on molasses—an article almost exclusively consumed by the poorer classes—which would tend to raise its price. If the produce of the refiners had been of one description, it would not have been difficult to deal with the matter; but their produce was of four or five different kinds, and the difficulty was in the apportionment of the duty, which would involve questions of extreme nicety. He did not see how it would be possible to avoid frauds, which would be alike detrimental to the revenue, and which would give an undue advantage to unfair against the fair traders. His hon. Friend the Member for Westbury and the Chairman of Excise had, a few days ago, spent upwards of seven hours with a deputation from the sugar refiners in consulting upon this subject; and the conclusion they arrived at was, that it would be most difficult to frame any measure which would protect the revenue and the fair trader from fraud. In order to obtain satisfactory information on this point, the Chairman of Excise, accompanied by experienced officers, visited, at his request, several sugar 1044 refineries, and spent three or four hours in going through some of the largest establishments in London; and they reported that they did not see the possibility of adequately securing the revenue, except by imposing such restrictions upon the refiners as would materially interfere with the course of their manufacture. The revenue officers would have to watch most strictly every stage of the manufacture, and to interfere, to a considerable extent, with the process of manufacture. When he found that it would be necessary that the system should be compulsory, and that the sugar refiners themselves saw the necessity of its being so, he could not but hesitate to impose upon the trade the restrictions which would be requisite. The object proposed might be of great advantage to some, but there were others to be considered also; and he did not at present, at any rate, see his way to its being effected. If, on further consideration, he should see his way to its being accomplished with justice to all parties, he should be very glad; but, not being at present in that position, he did not propose to allow sugar to be refined in bond for home consumption. The parties to whom he had referred had requested that the measure should be postponed for this Session at least; and he must say that he never saw men more anxious to carry out a proposed object if it could be done; it was only upon further investigation that the difficulties were found insuperable. Then, with respect to maintaining the distinction between double refined and single refined sugar, he found that it would be a great advantage to the trade to compound the two duties into one. All that could be asked on the part of the West Indies was, that the duty upon the sugar when refined should be equal to the duty upon the raw sugar, and he believed he had so calculated the sum that the former would rather exceed the latter. Although under the duty as now fixed foreign refined sugar would not come in to any great extent, yet it was sound policy to admit foreign manufactured articles, so as to prevent an undue price of articles manufactured at home; and, indeed, having regard to the spirit of liberality on which our commercial legislation for some years past had been framed, it might be said that it would be almost unjust to refuse this. The duties he had fixed would, he believed, effect this end, without exposing the refiner to any undue competition. He proposed, therefore, to impose one duty upon all refined sugar, instead of the two 1045 rates. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving—That the Duty upon Candy, Brown or "White refined Sugar, or Sugar rendered by any process equal in quality thereto, the growth or produce of a British Possession, should be 17s. 4d
§ MR. BARKLY
had heard with mingled astonishment and regret the announcement made by the right hon. Baronet, that after all the promises made to the West Indian interest, with respect to refining in bond being permitted, and all the advantages which it was stated would result to them from that measure, it was the intention of the right hon. Baronet to abandon the plan for the present Session. This was a fresh instance of that extraordinary vacillation of purpose on the part of the present Government which would in future prevent the trading interest of this country from placing any reliance whatever upon their promises, officially made in that House. This was no new measure; it had been always represented during the Session as one of the boons to be given to the West Indian interest by those who were connected with the Government. It was so stated in the House by the hon. Member for Westbury (Mr. J. Wilson) on the 23rd of June; and the statement had been again and again confirmed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer also in the House. The next thing heard was, that the preliminaries of the measure had been settled at an interview between the refiners and the Chairman of the principal Revenue Board concerned, at the office of the Chancellor of the Exchequer; indeed, in the City, the parties interested in the measure were favoured with a paper purporting to be the heads of the arrangement then come to. It was only upon Saturday last, when gentlemen connected with the West Indies requested an interview with the right hon. Gentleman, with a view to offer some suggestions, that they were told that he had changed his mind, and that there was to be no refining in bond. The reasons he had assigned were far from satisfactory. It was impossible to form so low an estimate of his capabilities for office as to suppose that it was only after the measure had been talked of for weeks, and after the preliminaries of it had been settled, that he thought of seeing whether the revenue could be made secure—whether the measure was practicable; it seemed incredible that it should have been only on Friday last that the Chairman of the Customs and Excise went over a refinery with that view. There was no difficulty 1046 in the case of refining in bond for home consumption, any more than for exportation, which had been allowed for these fifteen years. The right hon. Gentleman said it would be hard to make the measure compulsory, and to impose upon the refiners excise restrictions without their consent; but who ever asked him to make it compulsory? What was asked was, that those who wished to refine in bond, should be permitted to make the requisite arrangements with the Excise. Then, too, as to the sudden discovery that it was wrong to have two rates of duty upon refined sugar, the effect of his striking an average would be that the refiners would get a higher protection of 2s. a cwt. upon the low descriptions of refined sugar, of which the Dutch principally consisted, and this at the expense of the colonial refiner. At this late period of the Session, he (Mr. Barkly) was not going again to raise the question of protection to the colonies; but the changes which the Government had made in their day would have warranted it. The Economist enumerated the various advantages the West Indians were to have bestowed upon them by the Government scheme, and made them seven in number; of the whole seven, the West Indians at present could sec their way to getting just two during the Session! Gentlemen connected with the West Indies had told him (Mr. Barkly), that if his proposition had been carried, it might have been considered in some sort a settlement of the question; whereas the Government proposal would leave it open to be fought again.
§ MR. CARDWELL
had the honour of representing some of those who were most interested in the question. During the whole of the Session they were always told, both in Committee and in the House, that the system of refining in bond was a great advantage to which the West Indians might look forward. Now, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said, that if the power of refining in bond were given at all, it should not be optional, but compulsory, and that he did not see his way clearly to a solution of the difficulties attendant upon such a scheme. This was but an unsatisfactory answer to the West Indian producer. He did not know what difficulties the Chancellor of the Exchequer might have met with on communicating with the heads of the revenue departments; but if they had been made acquainted with this whilst the West India Committee was sitting, 1047 they would have known that there was no remedy for the grievance. The West Indians had been told, by the Gentlemen who represented the Government in that Committee, that the three principal measures to which the West Indians had to look for redress were the adjustment of the rum duties; the repeal of the navigation laws, which, whether for their benefit or not, would assuredly not he carried in the present Session; and refining in bond, which certainly would have been for the benefit of the West Indians, as against Cuba and Brazil. Their hopes had been buoyed up to the last moment; and now, at the eleventh hour, they were told they were not to get it.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
must deny altogether the statement of the hon. Member for Liverpool, that the Members of the Government, when sitting in the Committee on the West Indian inquiry, distinctly announced their intention of proposing a plan for allowing the refinery of sugar in bond. Although they certainly had examined witnesses in that Committee, to see how far the measure was practicable, and might have evinced a great anxiety to arrive at that conclusion; yet they never did, either as individual Members of the Committee, or still less as individual Members of the Government, intimate their determination to take any such measure. With respect to the proposal of allowing sugar to be refined in bond, he altogether agreed with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that, if it were possible to do so consistently with the security of the revenue, it would be a most important boon to the West Indian interest; but he thought his right hon. Friend had done his duty in not proposing a measure of so much importance unless he saw his way more clearly.
§ SIR W. CLAY
said, in the borough which he represented, by far the larger proportion of the sugar-refining trade of England was concentrated. He had been in communication with parties engaged in that trade, and he would say, it was after the most deliberate investigation of the difficulties attending any plan of refining in bond, that they had come to the conclusion that no plan yet presented would obviate those difficulties, and that it would he impossible to prevent fraud alike on the revenue and the honest trader without such a close, constant, and vexatious interference of the excise officers as would in the highest degree embarrass the proceedings 1048 of the manufacturers, and enhance the cost of the manufacture.
§ MR. GOULBURN
begged to confirm the statement of his hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool. It was perfectly true there was no distinct proposition made to that effect in the Committee; but, from conversations with the Members of the Government, the general belief was, that the permission would be granted.
§ Resolution agreed to.
§ On Schedule 2 being put,
§ LORD G. BENTINCK
said, that while he could not approve of the proceedings of the Government, he could not help admiring the debonnaire manner in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer came down to that House to announce that he was going to disappoint the West Indian, the East Indian, and the Mauritian interests, by refusing to concede to them the valuable boon which he so faithfully promised to them on Monday last. He also could not but admire the very light and trivial manner in which the right hon. Gentleman glossed over the "little inaccuracies" into which he had fallen in his treatment of this question. The right hon. Gentleman, in the easiest and most cavalier manner possible, had pleaded guilty to the indictment containing twenty-three counts which he had preferred against the right hon. Gentleman. He had accused the right hon. Gentleman, a few evenings since, of having fallen into twenty-three blunders in the original resolutions which he had introduced with respect to the sugar duties. The right hon. Gentleman, in attempting last week to rectify these, mistakes, fell into two more blunders; so that he now stood in this position, that after seven weeks' discussion on a question with the details of which he, above all other men, ought to have been most intimately and minutely familiar, he was convicted of having come down to that House, and of having fallen, in his treatment of that question, into no less than half a hundred blunders. When, on a former occasion, he (Lord G. Bentinck) complained of the rates of duty charged on Dutch refined sugars, the terms which he was promised by the Government were, that the duty on double refined sugar should be reduced from 19s. 6d. to 18s., and on single refined sugar from 17s. 4d. to 16s. But that boon would have been worth nothing—it would have been literally and absolutely valueless—had it not been accompanied by the assurance that the British colonies were to 1049 be permitted to refine in bond. All the value of the boon consisted in the permission proposed to be given to the British planters to refine their sugars in bond. Accompanied by that permission, it would have been really valuable; and it was under the distinct impression that such permission was to be concomitantly granted, that be had spoken when he expressed, on the part of the British planters, the sincere satisfaction with which he bad listened to the announcement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. And well might be have done so. Taking, for example, the coarse sugars of the East Indies, the effect of the permission to refine in bond would have boon to let in the lower qualities of sugar on paying a duty of about 9s. 1d. But it appeared that the long-promised boon, concerning which so much noise had been made, was not to be granted after all. After the hon. Member for Westbury had sat for three months in the Sugar and Coffee Planting Committee, incessantly examining and cross-examining witnesses as to the practicability of refining sugar in bond—(for that was his special plan for getting over the injustice and inequality of the present duty, which charged the same amount on sugars which were worth 12s. or 15s. in bond, and on those which were worth 27s. or 28s.)—after all this toil and trouble, and after receiving a solemn assurance that everything was to be set right, and all inequalities rectified, by permitting the British planters to refine in bond, they were now coolly told that the thing could not be done—that the thing was impossible—that the measure of permitting the British planters to import their own canes in the crudest possible state, and then to refine them in this country, was, in fact, the pith and essence of the Government plan. After the measure had been for seven weeks before the House of Commons, and after Her Majesty's Ministers bad taken from the 29th of May to the 16th of June to consider the exact details of the scheme they were to submit to the Legislature, they were told, forsooth, that it was not until the 28th of July that it had ever occurred to Her Majesty's Ministers to consult the Chairman of the Customs and the Chairman of the Excise, as to whether that part of their plan which, having for its object the assistance of the British planter, might be said to be the most important part of it all, could or could not be carried out. There never was seen such a pitiable spectacle of Ministers coming down 1050 to transact the business of the country, and succeeding in nothing except in demonstrating to the world how totally incapable they were of transacting any business at all. Nothing could be more unwise or more unstatesmanlike than the course they had adopted, in one day holding out hopes and promises which they un-ceremoniously violated the next. When the Chancellor of the Exchequer came down that evening, and so unblushingly announced his intention to abandon an engagement which he had so solemnly made, he had expected that the right hon. Gentleman would have gone on to explain the particulars of some project which be had arranged in his own mind for the compensation of the British planters, instead of the profit he had abandoned; but be had waited in vain for any such announcement. The promised boon was now denied, and nothing was promised in its place. If the right hon. Gentleman was right in stating on Monday last that it was proper there should be a difference of 1s. 6d. a cwt. between double refined sugars of the British colonies and the Butch double refined sugars, and a difference of 1s. 4d. between the single refined sugars of the British possessions, and the single refined sugars of Holland, what excuse had the right hon. Gentleman now for continuing the foreign duties at the same rates at which they stood in the Bill? He was without a shadow of pretence for leaving the duties as they at present stood. But the whole policy of the Government on this question was so inconsistent and so contradictory, that he very much doubted that they themselves understood what they were about. The principle on which the Chancellor of the Exchequer first set out was that of refining in this country; but he had now taken up the very converse of the proposition, and founded his whole plan on the principle that the sugars should be refined in the colonies. He now came to the question of the duties on sugars imported from the continent of Europe. Under the old Act there was a permanent duty of 3l. 3s. on double and single refined sugar imported from countries of which it was neither the growth nor produce, and a permanent duty of 2l. 2s. on muscovado sugar imported under similar circumstances; and a permanent duty of 10s. on molasses similarly imported. It was found, however, that on account of the Dutch rates it was impossible to maintain those duties. Such, at least, was the version of 1051 the affair given to that House. He had endeavoured to test the value of the objection, by asking the noble Lord at the head of the Foreign Department whether he would consent to lay upon the table the copies of any correspondence that might have passed on the subject between the English and Dutch Governments. The noble Lord, than whom no one was more expert at parrying an inconvenient question, replied, that the negotiations were still pending; and that, until they were completed, it would not be advisable to lay any correspondence on the table. But he succeeded in catching the noble Lord by inquiring the date of the last communication between the British and Dutch Governments. The noble Lord professed his inability to state; but on being pressed to say whether it was within the last three months, he replied, "Certainly not." It was clear, that on the 29th of May there was no difficulty with regard to the Dutch treaty, for on that day he proclaimed his intention to make no change in the old Sugar Duties Act, 9 and 10 Vict., cap. 63, containing that clause for the restoration of which in the present Bill it was his intention to move; the clause (No. 6) by which it was enacted that no sugar was to be admissible to entry for home consumption at the lower rates of duty, as being the growth and produce of any foreign country, unless the master of the ship importing the same could prove that such sugar was bonâ fide the growth and produce of the foreign country from which it was imported. There never was a more idle pretence than that relied on to prop up the plan by the hon. Member for West-bury, namely, that there was in the Dutch treaty a clause which interfered to prevent the distinction which he (Lord G. Bentinck) proposed to make between sugars the growth and produce of the countries from which they were imported, and sugars carried into the continent of Europe, there to be refined, and to receive a bounty for their export. No doubt negotiations would soon arise, for the Dutch Government would not be so neglectful of their own interest as not to profit by the hint which had fallen from the noble Lord at the head of the Foreign Department; but it was quite certain that so recently as the 29th of May no difficulty existed because of any Dutch treaty whatsoever. If the Amendment now under consideration were carried, he should propose the introduction of a new schedule of duties to be charged on all descriptions 1052 of sugar; and he should also move the restoration of Clause 6 of the Act 9 and 10 Vict., c. 63, to which he had already al luded. The Government had been erroneous in their calculations all along, and particularly in their calculations as to the amount of the probable increase in consumption by reason of the reduction of a halfpenny. He had ascertained, to a certainty, the quantity of sugar entered for home consumption at the ports of London, Liverpool, Bristol, Hull, and Clyde, last year and this year. In the year 1847, there were entered for home consumption in these ports, 143,318 tons; in 1848, there were entered 166,152 tons; adding 13½ per cent. which was the usual allowance for the other ports, it would he seen that there had been entered for home consumption during 29 weeks alone this year, 188,583 tons, against 162,655 during the corresponding weeks of last year, showing an increase of consumption of 29,928 tons during the first 29 weeks of the present year. It was clear, therefore, there could not be much exaggeration in the calculation that a reduction of a halfpenny could produce an increase of 30,000 tons. He would not trespass upon the attention of the House any further, but would merely move the Amendment of which he had given notice. The noble Lord concluded by a Motion to leave out the words, "on all sugar not otherwise charged with duty."
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, there was only one point to which he should refer, and that was the censure which the noble Lord had cast upon the Government with reference to the Dutch. The Dutch had stated that the English Government were bound to admit sugar refined in that country on the same principle as they admitted that of Belgium. That was a claim which could not be disputed; and he believed that if a contrary principle were acted upon, no country would suffer more than this. What was the case of the Channel Islands? Those islands being allowed to import into this country their own produce free of duty, certain parties had taken advantage of this to manufacture confections and other things, which were sent in large quantities to this country merely for the sake of the saccharine matter they contained, and thus the Customs regulations were altogether evaded. To cite such an instance as that against the claim of Holland, in a case in which equity was on the side of that country, would have been a 1053 most unworthy course on the part of the English Government.
§ MR. GOULBURN
asked whether it had never struck the right hon. Gentleman that throughout the whole of this Bill he insisted rigidly that the West Indies should be subjected to the same inconvenience which he had described as operating so prejudicially towards foreign countries?
said, the distinction to which the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Labouchere) had alluded was so clear, that he was surprised that there should he any doubt on the subject—the colonies were confined to their own growth and produce, simply because it was admitted into this country at a lower duty than foreign sugar. They were then speaking of a Bill imposing duties up to 1854; and he apprehended that after that period no such distinction could exist. It was clear that up to 1854, unless this distinction were maintained, the Jamaica planter would be liable to frauds on the part of the Cuban planter; but after 1854, there would be no longer any reason for insisting that the importation from Jamaica should be the growth and produce of that island. He believed that last year, so far from the bounty received by the Dutch refiners proving an advantage to them, they considered it an injury; so much so, that one of the principal refiners in Holland had recently published a pamphlet, strongly advocating the abolition of the system of bounties altogether, and recommending the adoption of the system of refining in bond in order to relieve them from the serious difficulties to which they were exposed under the existing system. The hon. Gentleman quoted a document which showed that the Dutch refiners were anxious for the abolition of the drawback, and very desirous of having the system of refining in bond introduced.] At the present moment, too, there was a proposition before the Chambers at Brussels for doing away with the drawbacks, and to allow refining in bond, as was the practice of this country; and, upon the whole, he was sure the House would be satisfied that the advantage of the bounty was more an apparent than a real one. As to the protection enjoyed in this country from the amount of freight, &c, paid upon the Dutch refined article, fifteen shillings per ton was the expense by steamboat; but it might be carried as low as ten shillings by sailing-vessels; although by the latter mode of conveyance the merchant had to put up 1054 frequently with great delays and inconvenience. He thought, after the terms of the treaty which the noble Lord had read, that it would be absolutely impossible for that House, at all events, to exclude Dutch refined sugars; and when they considered the large proportion of the European refiners existing in Holland, he would put it to the House whether it would be wise or prudent, legislating, as they pretended to do, upon broad and comprehensive principles, and admitting Dutch refined sugars, to exclude the small portion exported from Belgium or Hamburgh? But they must remember that we were in the same predicament, and that, too, in a twofold form, with the United States of America, as we were with regard to Holland. The United States' refiners were succeeding so well that they were formidable competitors in the Mediterranean markets, not only with our own refiners, but with the Dutch themselves; yet, whether by treaty or by the Act of 1846, we were obliged to admit the refined sugars of the United States. How, then, would they distinguish between the refined sugar of Louisiana and that of Cuba? He would ask, therefore, whether it would not be better for us boldly to look our difficulties in the face at once, and act as we were bound to do by treaty? Supposing Holland were to give the United States the advantage of allowing their cotton goods to be imported at a lower rate of duty than was levied upon the same description of goods from this country, and the difference as against our goods were to be grounded upon the principle that the raw material was not grown here, with what indignation might not the noble Lord have condemned such a course as an evasion of the treaty which allows our manufactures to come in upon an equal footing with those of the most favoured nations? So, reversing the case, and applying it against Dutch refined sugars imported into this country, Holland would have an equal ground of just complaint. Some years ago Mr. J. Deacon Hume, in a paper laid before the Lords of the Treasury in reference to the question whether it was competent for this or any other country to consider the origin of the material of refined sugar, and what was not, said that it was impossible to decide what portion of the raw material was of varied origin, either at the port of exportation or of destination. He (Mr. Wilson) knew there was a strong feeling existing amongst Gentlemen connected with the West Indian interest as to 1055 the advantages the Dutch refiners possessed over the refiners of this country. It was stated, for instance, that the Dutch got large tares on their sugar. It was quite true that the tares allowed by the importing merchants in Holland were larger than the actual tares on packages; but in no case when the article came to pay duty were those excessive tares allowed by the Government. The Custom-house reduced those tares in every instance, so that the Dutch had no advantage whatever over us in that respect. It had been also stated that the Dutch derived an advantage from the navigation laws, by being allowed to use the sugars imported by all flags. There was, however, a distinction in the duties charged upon sugar imported under Dutch flags, and those imported under foreign flags. The difference of duty was about 9d. a cwt.; and he believed the difference of the duty between the privileged and unprivileged flags in this country did not exceed that sum. The freights from Cuba for the last two or three months had not been more than from 10s. to 15s. per ton. He, therefore, thought that the Dutch refiner was not placed on that score in a more advantageous position than the refiner in this country. He believed the noble Lord could not, had he intended to do so, have made a Motion which could operate more disadvantageously to the West Indians themselves, than the one which he had submitted to the House. The exclusion of Dutch sugars during the last three or four years had operated very much to the prejudice of the West Indians. He (Mr. Wilson) thought it would be freely admitted, that whatever reduction took place in the cost of the raw material, as much as possible of that reduction should go to the benefit of the consumer, in order that the entire quantity of the sugar consumed might be increased. He would show that all the great reductions that had taken place in the price of the raw sugar had not gone to the benefit of the consumer, and, therefore, had not encouraged, to the extent they should have done, increased consumption. In 1845 the late Government reduced the duty on colonial sugar from 25s, 3d, to 14s. That should have caused a reduction in price amounting to 11s. 3d. In the last two months of 1844, West Indian sugar was 57s. 1d., and the price of refined standard loaves during that period was 75s., leaving a difference of 17s. 1d. between the price of West Indian sugar and refined sugar. When the duty 1056 was reduced from 25s. 3d. to 14s., the average price received by the West Indians for the following two months was 44s. 1d. But the average price of refined sugar during that period was 74s. 3d., being a difference of 30s., instead of 17s. 1d. This high price arose from the inability of the refiners to furnish the great supply demanded, in consequence of the reduction of duty. Surely it would have been an advantage to the West Indians in that case if the price of sugar to the consumer had fallen. In the first two months of 1847 the average price of duty-paid sugar was 49s. 8d. During the same period refined sugar was 68s. 7d., leaving a difference between the two of 18s. 11d. During the latter part of the year sugar fell 2l. a ton; and in the last two months, instead of 49s. 8d., the West Indians received only 37s.; and refined sugar fell from 68s. 7d. to 58s. It would have been to the advantage of the West Indians had refined sugar fallen in the same proportion as the West Indian sugar did, in order that increased consumption might take place. If we were now to exclude Continental sugar from this market, whatever variations might take place in the raw material, he did not believe that similar variations would take place in the refined article. But by admitting Continental sugars into this market, you would place that check on the British refiner to which every other British manufacturer was subject at the present moment. He thought it would be unwise to shape the measure of the Government according to the views of the noble Lord.
§ MR. GOULBURN
said, that it was not very easy to follow the calculations of the hon. Gentleman with regard to Dutch sugar; but, as far as he could understand the hon. Gentleman, he had made it out that a very large bounty was given to the Dutch refiners on exported sugar by their Government. The hon. Gentleman stated that 100 cwt. of raw sugar produced 68 cwt. of refined sugar, on which he paid no duty whatever. If, then, the Dutch had this bounty on sugar exported to this country, it would be a very serious thing to permit them to compete on equal terms with our own sugar refiners. Considering the difficulty there was in distinguishing sugars in a manufactured state, the better plan seemed to be to increase the rate of duty on all foreign sugars.
§ MR. DISRAELI
said: The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of 1057 Trade said there was only one point in the observations of the noble Lord (Lord G. Bentinck) which required notice; and, in reply to it, made some observations which he has put before the House on more than one occasion. But there was another point in the observations of my noble Friend which ought to have been noticed. If the position now taken by the Government be the right one, and the only one in accordance, as they say it is, with questions of high policy, how can they account for not having taken that position in the month of May last? That, Sir, appears to me to be exactly the one point of my noble Friend to which the Members of the Government who have spoken on this question ought to have addressed themselves; but they have altogether passed it over without one word of explanation. Now, it cannot be said that this matter was suddenly brought under their consideration. It has been often adverted to. With reference to the first point, the "favoured nation clause," I will make a general observation. It never was intended that this clause should be pedantically introduced in negotiations as a clause against which there was no appeal. It was to be in a great measure dependent upon the interpretation which the Minister of this country might give to it—taking all the circumstances into consideration—and, therefore, in no manner can the dry words of that clause decide the argument. But the Committee will bear in mind that in May last not a word was said upon this question—this question which is now said to be one of high policy—not a syllable was uttered by the Government, or by any Member of it, not even by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Westbury, who seems to have taken sugar peculiarly under his care. Now, Sir, I am of opinion that the Committee cannot accept this sort of scattered information and these imperfect notions thrown out by the Government as a sufficient reason for the adoption of the course they recommend. The Committee cannot so lightly pass over so serious a matter. If the case of the Government be so much dependent upon or in accordance with existing treaties, to which they refer with so much triumph—if it be, as they say, a question of high policy, how can they account for the fact that even so recently as the month of May they were unaware of its importance? And how can they account for this further fact, that not one of the Members of the Government who sat upon 1058 the Sugar and Coffee Planting Committee, even for one moment, referred to this "question of high policy," as they are now pleased to call it? It is, I repeat, impossible that the Government could have been in ignorance of the matter; for, when they were in opposition, the favoured nation clause was the subject of frequent discussion—nay, of their peculiar study. They introduced several Motions having reference to it. The effects of this clause upon the treaty with Holland, the compliance with which is now declared to be a question of "high policy," did not seem to have any weight with the Government in the month of May. Why do they so much rely upon it now? So much for the foreign refiners. Now, let us look at another point—the case of the domestic refiners. You (the Government) ought to have been able to clear yourselves with reference to the foreign refiner; but how can you clear yourselves with reference to the domestic refiner—how can you clear yourselves with the trade of England—with your own manufacturers—from this charge, that you came to this House, proposed very great changes, held out to the trade of England that you had a great boon to offer it, a great compensation, namely, that they should have the power of refining in bond in this country? You examined witnesses on this point before the Sugar and Coffee Committee; and you announced it in the House as one of the principal measures of relief. There were seven measures of relief promised by you—seven measures of relief announced. Two only have been carried—supposing those proposed to be carried—one of them, the immigration vote, to supply the Secretary of the Colonies with a fund, of which he says he cannot dispose; and the other is so slight as to be almost valueless, namely, a relief amounting to 1,400l. a year to the West Indian interest from the alteration of the duties upon rum. But there are two important subjects upon which the Government ought to have afforded information to the House. You ought to explain to the country why you were so ignorant of that "question of high policy "which you have introduced to us to-night with respect to foreign refined sugar; and you ought to explain why you held out those false hopes to the traders of this country with respect to domestic refined sugar. The hon. Member for Westbury favoured us to-night with a description of statistics which I, for one, 1059 must say that I always regard with great suspicion, as I listen to them with great perplexity. I cannot yield my conviction, nor make my experience succumb to those anonymous manuscript statistics. I protest against any Member of the Government enforcing his views, and claiming the assent of this House to an auxiliary of so covert and suspicious a character. I would not think it fair in a private Member to, support his case with figures and statements to which nobody else could have access; but I still more strongly protest against a Member of the Administration coming forward and reasoning upon such anonymous authority. The hon. Member for Westbury has acted in this way several times, and upon some occasions with temporary effect. I am very happy to see that hon. Gentleman (Mr. Wilson) filling so distinguished a position; but then he ought to recollect that that position entails upon him a responsibility and a duty as to the information with which he furnishes the House, much higher and graver than when he addressed it as an independent Member. The hon. Gentleman will recollect that on a former occasion he favoured the House with some railroad statistics in relation to the island of Cuba, which statistics turned out to be of quite a Munchausen character. He told us that there was one-third as many miles of railway in the island of Cuba as in England; but my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland (Mr. Hudson) soon dispelled this imaginary prosperity; and the hon. Gentleman, upon a subsequent occasion, after refreshing his memory with more correct intelligence, was forced to admit that, instead of 850 miles of railway being made in Cuba, there were only 180, and even all those lines were not finished. The hon. Gentleman, it will be remembered, quoted those fabulous returns of Cuban railways in order to show the want of enterprise and perseverance on the part of the English planters—to prove the sluggishness and total disregard of improvement in Jamaica and in our other islands. I repeat, Sir, that when a Member of the Government comes down to this House to support "a question of high policy" (according to his own phraseology), he ought not to adduce figures and calculations which cannot be examined and refuted in detail—which cannot be obtained by ordinary research, nor subjected to ordinary criticism; and what I say is the more applicable when these so-called "statistics " 1060 are not called in to and an apparently established state of fact, a seemingly sound position, but the very reverse. Once for all, Sir, I protest against such a system being recognised or tolerated in this House. But just let me remind the Committee of the exact position of the question as regards the "favoured nation clause." This clause has never been taken and must never be considered as a limitable clause. It is to be interpreted, as I have already said, by the Ministers according to the circumstances which may arise. If you attempt to put upon it any dry or rigid interpretation, you will be, in our mercantile relations with those foreign countries, opening the door to unceasing fraud. The clause must not be construed rigidly, but equitably. Everybody is agreed that a certain bounty is enjoyed by the foreign, refiner. It was the duty of the Government to have ascertained the amount of such bounty. They should have made themselves masters of this subject, and laid full and satisfactory details before the House. You have Ministers and Consuls in foreign States, you have a Secretary to the Board of Trade, and from these you ought to have procured reliable information, and not to have trusted to anonymous correspondence of Members of the Administration, whose department it certainly is not to supervise this part of the question. If the hon. Gentleman had come forward on a question of East India sugar, I could understand it, be-cause documents relating to it might come especially under his notice from the official post he fills; but when he thus goes out of his road he ought at least to have made out a case upon which the House could rely, and left no room for doubting the authenticity of his statements. The Government seem wholly unacquainted with the real amount of the foreign bounty. One says he docs not think it is so much, and another says he does not think it is worth anything; and in this ignorance the House is called upon to legislate—no authority, no data, but a bundle of incomprehensible and mysterious statistics, from which nothing could be gleaned, and which only served to give an air of fact and substance to the Government scheme. Can the Government expect that the interest affected by this measure will be satisfied with this meagre sort of explanation? Can they expect the House to receive it. Is it fair to the Committee? Is it fair to the country? The President of the Board of Trade told us nothing of the twenty-five blunders the 1061 Ministers committed. A subject so fertile in misconception and so fruitful in blunders, ought to have been discussed at one of the many Cabinet Councils which have been lately held, and ought not to have been laid before the House of Commons until it was completely digested and maturely considered. I trust the noble Lord will persevere in his Amendment; and, if so, I will most decidedly vote with him.
§ MR. GLADSTONE
said, the competition really to be apprehended was that of the Dutch refiner. The arguments in favour of the; plan of the Government, to which he had endeavoured to give an impartial consideration, were these: first, that we ought not to leave in the hands of the British refiner the monopoly of the British market; and in the second place, that the equity, if not the strict construction of the Treaty of the Netherlands required us to admit sugar from Holland on the same terms as sugar from Belgium. As to the argument of competition, on general grounds, he could not accede to it; but if it was to he sustained not by the fair advantages of industry, but by the artificial advantages which legislation could give, it would not be a fair mode of applying the principle of liberty in commerce, to admit this competition against our own refiner. As to the treaty, he conceived it was not wise to adopt an illiberal mode of constructing treaties. If they were bound to ob-serve the principles of equity towards foreign countries, they were bound to observe the principles of equity towards their own subjects; and if it were equitable to give a free construction to the stipulations of a commercial treaty, so was it equitable to preserve the equality of footing of our own trader, and not to suffer him to be crushed by the competition of those who were sustained by the long purse of a foreign Government. He could not help observing, that the treaty with Holland, on the strength of which this difficulty was raised, was a terminable treaty. It was a difficulty which might require an exceptional arrangement for a term of twelve months, after which we had liberty to require the termination of the treaty. We came back to this question, was there a considerable bounty given by the laws of Holland to the refiner of sugar in that country, or was there not? He must say, that the evidence was what he should call demonstrative in favour of the fact that a large bounty was given to the Dutch refiner; and he had heard nothing advanced 1062 on the other side except presumption against it. The right hon. Gentleman said, it was an injurious principle, and that the refiners of Holland were seeking to obtain the abolition of this benefit; that the principal refiner had published a pamphlet against it. This would prove about as much as Lord Fitzwilliam, a principal landowner of England, publishing a pamphlet against the corn laws. Then he said that the refiners of Belgium were socking the abolition of the bounty. The account which he had heard was very different. It was this, that the refiners in Belgium were asking that colonial sugar should be placed on a footing with beetroot sugar in Belgium; and if they could obtain equality for colonial sugar, as compared with beetroot, they were willing, by way of compensation, to give up the advantage of the bounty. Until the existence of the bounty could be disproved, and however desirable it was to see fair and equal competition applied to every article of commerce, this would not be a fair law of equal competition; but it would be calling on a private man, who had to struggle with his own resources, to enter into a conflict with those who were supported by the resources of the State.
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
said, that when the right hon. Gentleman spoke of giving notice to Holland that at a certain period the treaty would cease, he seemed to forget that this was not merely a question of commerce and trade in refined sugar, nut that the treaty to which he referred was a treaty regulating the trade generally between this country and Holland. Did the right hon. Gentleman think that, in order to shut out the refined sugars of Holland, it was worth while for the Dutch to place a differential duty against the commerce and manufactures of this country, thereby putting the manufactures of this country at a disadvantage, as compared with the manufactures of Germany, France, or the United States? That was the effect of the argument of the right hon. Gentleman. Then the right hon. Gentleman said, after all there was an advantage given by bounty in Holland to the refiners of Holland, therefore this country ought to impose a higher duty on all foreign sugars on account of that bounty. He did not deny that there might be some apparent advantage in that bounty being given to the refiners of Holland; but there was a great difference of opinion on the subject. Many in this country were of opinion that 1063 there was no advantage in it, while the Dutch refiners themselves considered it a disadvantage rather than anything else. There was one fact which he considered conclusive upon the point, and that was, that the refiners of this country, who had no bounty whatever, could compete in a third market with the refiners of Holland. The right hon. Gentleman, in his argument, had certainly laid down a doctrine which was anything but consistent with the principles of free trade.
§ MR. HERRIES
said, the whole question was one of adjustment of protection, and he thought the taunt which the noble Lord had thrown out against his right hon. Friend (Mr. Gladstone) altogether inapplicable. The whole question, he repeated, was one of adjustment, and, being so, the material point was to ascertain the precise amount of benefit which the bounty of the Dutch Government conferred. Not to take the bounty into consideration, was, in his opinion, giving to this favoured nation clause a more favourable interpretation towards the foreigner than ever was intended or anticipated. He thought it was quite in accordance with the treaty and with the duty of the Government to have apprised the Dutch Government that they would not receive its sugars with its special bounty upon the same footing as the sugar of other countries which did not enjoy such bounty. The noble Lord seemed to base his support of this scheme upon free-trade principles, so that it would appear free trade meant an under disregard of British interest, and the exposing of the British manufacturer to foreign competition at whatever disadvantage. [Lord J. RUSSELL: I did not say so.] No, but such was the only inference which could be drawn from the observations of the noble Lord. If this was free-trade policy, he wished its advocates joy of it. It was clear that in this case it was both unjust and unequal. The noble Lord depended mainly for the maintenance of his measure, not upon argument or facts, but upon a majority of that House; for he had shown such a total want of acquaintance, not to say ignorance of the subject, as he had never before witnessed in a Minister. He would support the Amendment of his noble Friend.
§ LORD J. RUSSELL
, in explanation, remarked that his argument was that the sugar refiner of Holland could not possess any advantage from his bounty, since the sugar refiner of this country, in the third 1064 market, suffered no disadvantage from Dutch competition.
said, that with regard to the treaty with Holland, we were bound by it to admit whatever was manufactured there, as if it were the produce of Holland. With regard to the amount of the bounty, he thought he could give the Committee some information. In the year 1834, when he visited Holland, he found that half the duty (which was then very high) was the advantage which the Dutch refiner enjoyed. In 1842 the bounty was 6s. 8d. on every 220 lbs.; but that included the duty on the paper and a stamp, which reduced the whole amount to 3s. per 110 lbs. He had had the honour, under Lord Beau-vale, of working out the details of the treaty with Austria; and he was then instructed to obtain reductions of the sugar duties, not on British colonial only, but also on foreign sugar refined in bond. It was found that British sugar refined in bond was exported to Trieste, and there competed successfully with the refined sugars of Holland. Since then a further diminution of the price had taken place; and on looking at the schedule of the Government, he did think that 24s. 8d. was too low. He considered that not less than 26s. 8d., as imposed in 1846, would be sufficient to put the refiners of this country on an equal footing with those of Holland and other countries. He hoped that the Government would alter their proposition to 26s. 8d., which would be a fair and equitable protection to the British refiner.
§ LORD G. BENTINCK
I am happy to find that I may claim the vote of the hon. and gallant Member (Colonel Thompson), as well as that of the hon. Member for Glasgow (Mr. M'Gregor), which I confidently calculate upon. It appears, then, that the hon. Member not only had the honour of suggesting the Tariff of 1846, but that he officiated as the representative of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in working out the details of the treaty with Austria. There seems to be no office which the hon. Member does not add a lustre to. But he says that, in his opinion, the duty of 24s. 8d. ought to be 26s. 8d., and he makes the difference of the bounty 3s. per cwt. That is exactly my calculation—the duty I propose is assessed at that rate, and I therefore expect the hon. Member will vote with me. The noble Lord the Member for the city of London found great fault with my right hon. Friend (Mr. Gladstone) and asked him 1065 whether it was worth while to run the risk of having foreign Governments insisting on the same rule being dealt out to our manufactures which we insist shall be dealt out to them with regard to sugar? But I take leave to ask the noble Lord whether he thought it worth while, on the 28th of May, to run this risk? I have had no answer from the noble Lord on this point. He has refused altogether to join issue with us, and he has not shown how it was that, up to the 29th of May, he was prepared to maintain this difference. And I must say that I think the noble Lord's argument was somewhat disingenuous, which he endeavoured to draw from a comparison of the exclusion of our cotton manufactures from foreign markets if we persevered in insisting on a distinction between manufactures and the growth or produce. The hon. Member for Westbury has told us that the difference of freight was 2s. 6d. per cwt., and he proved this by showing that the freight by steamers was 15s. per ton. He makes that to be an equivalent, I imagine, by some Board of Trade process. [Mr. WILSON: Freight and charge, I said.] How, then, would the hon. Member have us believe that the charge makes all the difference between 9d. per cwt. and 2s. 6d. per cwt? But I apprehend the hon. Gentleman HIMSELF WILL admit there is a difference in the freights from the ports of London, Hull, Sunderland, Newcastle, and the other ports from which the British refiner ships his goods. Then the hon. Member says that it is for the interest of the West Indian that we should let in sugars refined in Holland at a less duty; because in the course of last autumn, when the long price of sugar fell from 48s. to 37s., the refiner reduced his price from 68s. 7d. to 58s., which was a difference of 10s. But how he makes out that difference I am at a loss to understand.
§ The Committee divided on the question, that the words proposed to he left out stand part of the question:—Ayes 87; Noes. 34: Majority 53.
|List of theAYES|
|Abdy, T. N.||Brotherton, J.|
|Adair, R. A. S.||Brown, W.|
|Anson, hon. Col.||Clay, J.|
|Armstrong, Sir A.||Clay, Sir W.|
|Armstrong, R. B.||Clifford, H. M.|
|Baring, rt. hn. Sir F. T.||Cobden, R.|
|Barnard, E. G.||Colebrooke, Sir T. E.|
|Bellew, R. M.||Craig, W. G.|
|Berkeley, hon. Capt.||Dashwood, G. H.|
|Blewitt, R. J.||Duke, Sir J.|
|Boyle, hon. Col.||Dundas, Adm.|
|Brockman, E. D.||Ewart, W.|
|Fagan, W.||O'Connell, M. J.|
|Forster, M.||Ogle, S. C. H.|
|Fox, R. M.||Paget, Lord A.|
|Fox, W. J.||Parker, J.|
|Freestun, Col.||Pilkington, J.|
|Grace, O. D. J.||Power, Dr.|
|Grenfell, C. W.||Price, Sir R.|
|Grey, rt. hon. Sir G.||Reynolds, J.|
|Hall, Sir B.||Romilly, Sir J.|
|Hardcastle, J. A.||Russell, Lord J.|
|Hawes, B.||Russell, F. C. H.|
|Hay, Lord J.||Salwey, Col.|
|Hayter, W. G.||Sheil, rt. hon. R. L.|
|Headlam, T. E.||Shelburne, Earl of|
|Henry, A.||Somerville, rt. hn. Sir W.|
|Hobhouse, T. B.||Stuart, Lord D.|
|Howard, P. H.||Tancred, H. W.|
|Jervis, Sir J.||Tennent, R. J.|
|Kershaw, J.||Thompson, Col.|
|King, hon. P. J. L.||Thornely, T.|
|Labouchere, rt. hon. H.||Tollemache, hon. F. J.|
|Langston, J. H.||Villiers, hon. C.|
|Lemon, Sir C.||Ward, H. G.|
|Lewis, G. C.||Westhead, J. P.|
|M'Gregor, T.||Williams, J.|
|Martin, C. W.||Wilson, J.|
|Matheson, A.||Wilson, M.|
|Matheson, Col.||Wood, rt. hon. Sir C.|
|Maule, rt. hon. F.||Wood, W. P.|
|Milner, W. M. E.||Wyld, J.|
|Mitchell, T. A.||TELLERS.|
|Morpeth, Visct.||Tufnell, H.|
|Morison, Sir W.||Hill, Lord M.|
|List of the NOES.|
|Anstey, T. C.||Hood, Sir A.|
|Archdall, Capt.||Hotham, Lord|
|Bankes, G.||Hudson, G.|
|Bentinck, Lord G.||Jolliffe, Sir W. G. H.|
|Beresford, W.||Law, hon. C. E.|
|Buck, L. W.||Miles, P. W. S.|
|Buller, Sir J. Y.||Mullings, J. R.|
|Disraeli, B.||Newdegate, C. N.|
|Drummond, H.||Pugh, D.|
|Dundas, G.||Richards, R.|
|Gaskell, J. M.||Smyth, Sir H.|
|Gladstone, rt. hn. W. E.||Stuart, J.|
|Gordon, Adm.||Urquhart, D.|
|Goulburn, rt. hon. H.||Vivian, J. E.|
|Grogan, E.||Willoughby, Sir H.|
|Henley, J. W.||TELLERS.|
|Herries, rt. hon. J. C.||Barkly, H.|
|Hildyard, R. C.||Baillie, H. J.|
§ Resolutions and schedules agreed to. House resumed.