§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
I will now, Mr. Speaker, proceed to make that statement which I promised to the House before the holidays I would make on this 730 day with respect to the West Indian distress. I mean to close my present address by a mere Motion of form, and to propose that on Monday next the House should resolve itself into Committee of the whole House for the purpose of considering the propositions which I shall this day have the honour of stating to the House. Sir, in considering the present state of the West Indies, and generally of those parts of the British dominions in which sugar is produced, although I wish to enter as little into argument as possible, I think it will be necessary to take some general view of the past course of our legislation. I am confirmed in my opinion that it would not be sufficient to speak of the Act of 1846, by the opinion of a gentleman whose views are adverse in many respects to mine, but who is a person of great experience, and who has paid attention for many years to this subject. I speak of Mr. John Innes. In answer to question 13,384 before the Select Committee on sugar and coffee planting—Do you believe that the change of the sugar duties which took place in 1846 has materially affected the condition of the West Indies?—I entertain the opinion that much more has been attributed to that Act as regards the past than can fairly be ascribed to it. I hold that the Act having passed in 1846 it is impossible that there can have been any great accession of sugar produced hitherto in consequence of that Act; but I think, prospectively, it will operate most injuriously.
You do not believe that it would be fair to attribute the state of distress which notoriously exists in the West Indies to the operation of the Act of 1846, but you trace it back to causes which existed before that?—I believe if the Act of 1846 had never passed, the price of sugar would have been nearly as low last year as it was; but I consider that the Act of 1846, having entirely destroyed confidence in West India property, has deprived the planter of support, and diminished his power to supply sugar.
§ Now, Sir, my opinion is this, that the distress which has existed of late in the West Indies, taken by itself, resembles many cases of distress which existed during the continuance of monopoly and protection; and what we have to consider is rather the general legislation that has prevailed, than the distress which exists at the present moment. Sir, there are two periods and two great acts by which the present state of the West Indies has been materially affected. The first of these was the Act by which the negro population was made free. Now, Sir, I consider that was a great act of humanity and of justice. I 731 think it was due to the people living under the British Crown but in the miserable condition of slaves; and I believe if that Act had not been passed we should have had a series of insurrections and disturbances which would have been fatal to the prosperity of the West Indians. Therefore, Sir, in anything that I may say to-day, I wish rather to take pride to myself for having been a party to that great Act of Emancipation; and I think that the gift of 20,000,000l., made at the same time cheerfully by the Parliament and people of this country, showed that, however great was their abhorrence of slavery, Parliament and the people were disposed, as far as they were concerned, to make a sacrifice for the purpose of preventing such distress and ruin as must have arisen had that Act been withheld. But, Sir, it was not to be expected that a great act of that kind—freedom given in a very short time to 800,000 human beings who had previously existed in a state of slavery—it was not to be expected that that transition from slavery to freedom could be effected without very considerable inconveniences; and I think we may be well satisfied if those inconveniences did not exist to such a degree as entirely to disturb and overthrow the state of society as it then existed. I think it speaks well for those who had been proprietors of slaves in the West Indies—it speaks well for the negroes themselves—that that great change was accomplished with so little disturbance as has taken place. But, Sir, in carrying that Act into effect, there were some measures adopted which although they were supported by public feeling at the time, and although I believe they met with the concurrence of Parliament, did place additional difficulties in the way of the West India proprietors. I speak more particularly of the prohibition to import labourers from the coast of Africa. It was believed that it would be impossible to import labour from the coast of Africa without a revival of slavery, and in some degree of the slave trade. So strong was the feeling upon the subject, that I found, when I was in the Colonial Office, that there were very great difficulties in the way of a slight attempt which I made to import Africans from Sierra Leone, and that a measure conceived in a similar spirit of introducing labourers from the East Indies into the Mauritius was obstructed, and in fact rejected, by a vote of this House. Afterwards measures were taken 732 for obtaining a supply of labour of different kinds to the West Indies and Mauritius; but these measures took a considerable time. The introduction of Europeans into the West Indies was said to have entirely failed as a source of supply of labour; the introduction of Coolies has not been attended with any great success; and the various measures adopted for introducing labourers from the coast of Africa required a great deal of correspondence, a great deal of regulation to prevent abuse; and though I believe measures were taken in 1843, and again in 1845, for that purpose, they have not yet had any very signal effect on the supply of labour in the West Indies. Other measures were taken at the same time, to which great objection has been made, but which I think were not fairly liable to those objections—I mean the measures for facilitating contracts for not more than one year with those who engaged themselves as labourers in the West Indies. I think in practice it has been found that contracts made for a longer period, if made on disadvantageous terms to the labourer, were ineffective. The labourer sees others in his neighbourhood having higher wages for the same labour; an attempt is made at compulsory labour, which by the law putting an end to slavery cannot be enforced, and the employer does not gain the benefit he expected from the prolongation of his contract. The other great change to which I wish to allude is the change which took place in 1845 and 1846—the lowering of the colonial duties in 1845; the admission of free-labour sugar; and in 1846 the admission of all foreign sugar at a duty reduced at first from 63s. to 21s. per cwt., and with a subsequent reduction which, in 1851, was to end in the equalisation of the duty. Now, Sir, if the former measure of the emancipation of the slave population in the West Indies rested on undoubted principles of religion, humanity, and justice, I think that the measure of 1846 rested no less on views of sound policy and of justice to the labouring people of this country. I cannot but think that it was not to be expected, while a scanty supply of sugar only could be obtained from our own possessions, and properties in the West Indies were many of them extravagantly managed, and in such a manner as to obtain for very considerable wages very little return of labour, so that it has been said many of the labourers worked but four days in a week, and for five hours a 733 day—I cannot but think, where that was the case, it would not have been just to the people of this country to withhold from them the power of obtaining so general an article of consumption as sugar at a cheaper rate than it could be furnished by those who were liable to these disadvantages. With regard to the two measures I have mentioned, the general purpose for which they were mainly enacted, may be said to have been completely successful. The main purpose of the Act of 1834 was, as I have stated, to give freedom to 800,000 persons; to place those then living in a condition of slavery in a state of independence, prosperity, and happiness. That object, I think, every one admits has been accomplished. I believe a class of labourers more happy, more in possession of all the advantages and enjoyments of life, than the negro population of the West Indies, does not exist. That great object has been accomplished by the Act of 1834. So likewise with respect to the Act of 1846, of which the object was to obtain a cheaper supply of sugar with at the same time a diminution of burden to the people of this country—that Act has been completely successful, giving to the consumer in this country an increased supply at a less charge, while at the same time it has increased the revenue derived by the State. I find, Sir, by the return I hold in my hand that the consumption of sugar in 1845 was 244,000 tons; in 1846, it was 261,300 tons; in 1847, it was 290,700 tons. I believe I stated in 1846, when giving an estimate of what might be the probable supply and consumption, that it might reach 290,000 tons. It has exceeded that amount, and the consumption is still increasing. If I look to the revenue, I find that the duties on sugar, which in 1845 were 3,745,000l., were in 1846 4,050,000l., and in 1847 4,596,000l., showing an increase of revenue in 1847 over 1845 of no less than 851,000l. Now, that has been obtained not solely by the Act of 1846, but partly by the diminution of duties in 1845; and it was a consequence generally, not of an increase, but of a reduction of the duties payable by the consumer. In the great object, therefore, of enabling the consumer to buy his sugar cheaper, and that in his little budget of receipts and expenses he might be enabled to have the comfort of consuming an additional quantity of sugar, while at the same time the revenue should be improved, nothing could be more successful than that 734 Act. But, Sir, I have stated what I think were grievances and evils accompanying the Act of 1834; these have accompanied the Act of 1846—evils affecting the proprietors in the West Indies, and certainly producing to a considerable degree that discouragement of which Mr. Innes speaks in the passage I have quoted from his evidence. It is said that the prospect of the speedy abolition of all protecting duties—the equalisation of duties at so short a period, prevents, and in many instances has prevented, any further outlay on sugar estates; and that many of the sugar estates being left out of cultivation for a few months it would require many years before they could again be restored to cultivation. It is said, and I believe with truth, that with regard to a large quantity of the sugar that is brought into this market, there is an advantage given to the foreign producer by encouraging him to send to this market an article of a better quality, while the articles of inferior quality are sent to the Continental markets. Several witnesses have stated that the difference in point of value of sugar, which is partly manufactured by claying and other processes, and the ordinary muscovado sugar, is no less than 6s. per cwt. It is obvious that it is the interest of the foreign producer, while there is a discriminating and differential duty, to send to this market the best article he can make at the lower duty, at which he can compete with the greatest advantage with those who pay a duty which is still lower than he pays. If the duties were all equal, it might be the same thing to him to send either the superior or the inferior article to this and the Continental market; but as long as there is the difference of duty it is a manifest advantage to him to send the superior article to the British market. At the same time with regard to rum, there is this disadvantage to the West India producer, first, that the differential duty at present kept up with reference to British spirits is an unfair advantage to distillers in this country. Sir, the results of these two great measures, while they are in their main principles not only defensible, but, as I think, deserving of support and commendation, at present place the producer in the West Indies, or parts of the West Indies, in a most disadvantageous position. I have frequently spoken upon this subject with regard to the great principles which I thought ought to be maintained; but at the same time, with 735 regard to the operation of these Acts, I think, considering the great importance it is that the experiment of 1834, the transition of so many persons from slavery to freedom, should be successful—the great importance it is of giving every fair opportunity to the competition of free labour as against slave labour—I think Government is bound to propose any measure which they think they can justly recommend for the purpose of counteracting the evils which those who are now in a distressed condition call upon us to remedy. I will state, then, what we have in contemplation, without, as I have said, going into any arguments on the subject. I rather wish to defer discussion on the propositions I now make till Monday next. I merely wish to put the House in possession of what our views are with respect to those various circumstances. Sir, with regard to the first question, as depending on the adjuncts of the Act of 1834, by which labour was made difficult to be procured by the West Indies, much has already been done of late years to diminish that difficulty. The present state of the case is, that labourers may be introduced from any British possession in Africa, with only this provision, that there should be an officer on board the vessel who shall take care that there are no transactions resembling the purchase of slaves or the slave trade, and that the person who emigrates to the West Indies should go there with his own consent. But there is another measure which was adopted by my noble Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies with respect to the liberated Africans. Formerly the liberated Africans were sent to Sierra Leone, or some other possession in the neighbourhood, and the West Indians derived no advantage from the labour of those persons; at the same time they were maintained at a very considerable expense in a state of idleness and barbarism in the neighbourhood of Sierra Leone. My noble Friend has now provided that the liberated Africans should be sent, under certain restrictions and conditions, to the West Indies, for the purpose of being there employed as labourers. With respect, however, to this question of immigration, I have already stated that I think the obstacle and difficulty—the suspicion there was in this country that the slave trade might be revived under the pretence of immigration—the fear that slaves should be compelled to work in the West Indies—retarded for a longer period than was quite fair or just 736 to the West India proprietors, the immigration into the West Indies. Entertaining this view, therefore, we propose to do more than we should have done had the question been from the beginning settled in favour of the West Indies, and a free import of labourers continued from 1835 to the present time. We propose, therefore, either to make advances on the security of the colonial revenues, or guarantee loans to be raised by the colonies for the purpose of giving a bounty on the importation of immigrants into the West Indies. We propose that the sums so granted or advanced should not exceed 500,000l. in addition to the sum this House has already consented to advance, 160,000l., for that purpose. With reference to contracts for service, and with regard to the question of vagrancy and squatting, my noble Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonial Department has taken those subjects into his earnest consideration, and is perfectly willing to agree to anything that is reasonable on that point. But, in fact, there is very great difficulty in framing laws on the subject; any measures the colonial legislatures themselves may think practically beneficial to them, that would not imply compulsory labour or slavery, will have the ready attention and willing consent of my noble Friend. I come now to the other question, namely, the question of the Act of 1846. I have stated that complaints have been made of the too rapid operation of the Act, and likewise that there is one kind of sugar which obtains advantages under the present classification of duties which it ought not to have. Now, in considering that subject, I must say, at the outset, that I do not think it would be fair to the British consumer to impose anything like a differential duty of 10s. to last for a period of six years, or any longer time, for the purpose of reviving industry and prosperity in the West Indies. I think the consideration of the large tax imposed on the people of this country—the consideration that the labourer in this country, who is giving the whole of his industry for ten or twelve hours a day, already pays heavily for his tea, coffee, and sugar, would preclude such a course. To impose on him a duty, which may be exaggerated at an estimate of 2,900,000l. a year, but which still must be a duty of 2,000,000l.—["Oh, oh!"] Well, I am ready to take it at 1,000,000l. or 1,500,000l.; but, as I said, to impose on the British consumer 737 such a heavy tax for a long period, would be a hardship upon him, which I am not ready to inflict. I look, therefore, in another direction. With regard to the experience of late years, in reference to many articles to which I need not now advert, with respect to which the duties have been lessened, or in regard to which, without any lessening of the duties, there has been a much greater production, and, therefore, a lowering of the price, we have found such an increased consumption, that the revenue has not fallen, while the consumer has been largely benefited. I look, therefore, in that direction, and not in the direction of an increase of the duties now existing, which would result in the total breaking up of the hope of the British people that the duties on sugar are about to be reduced. I look to the hope of a large consumption for any modification of the Act of 1846. I will take the liberty of referring to a paper which was laid before the Select Committee on Sugar and Coffee Planting, and which was addressed by Mr. Benjamin B. Greene, of Austin-friars, to the noble Lord the Member for Lynn. It gives an account of the increase of consumption after the lowering of the duty, and it then goes on to say:—
§ "In 1825 an increase of 7s. per cwt. in price caused a decrease in consumption of 16,000 tons;
|In 1826 a fall of 7s. 11d. increased consumption||25,900|
|In 1827 a rise of 5s. 2d. diminished||12,500|
|In 1828 a fall of 4s. 1d. increased||17,000|
|In 1830 a further fall of 5s. 2d.||12,400|
|In 1836 a rise of 7s. 5d. diminished||21,500|
|In 1837 a fall of 6s. 3d. increased||22,800|
|In 1839 a rise of 5s. 6d. diminished||9,500|
|In 1840 a further rise of 10. id.||11,800|
|In 1841 a fall of 8s. 8d. increased||23,100|
§ The last three years, however, namely 1845,1846, and 1847, present the most remarkable proof of all, that diminished price is sure to be followed by increased consumption. In 1845 prices fell 11s. 9d. per cwt., and consumption increased 38,600 tons. In 184", such was the stimulus already given, that without any material alteration in price, consumption rose still further 17,300 tons. In 1847 a further fall of 6s. again added to the consumption 29,400 tons; making in the three years an increase of no less than 85,000 tons per annum upon the consumption of 1844."
§ Now, I think that this increased consumption of 85,000 tons per annum is so remarkable a proof of the powers of consumption in this country, and of the fact that consumption is limited and checked by the duty, that it affords an encouragement to try a further experiment in the way of reduction 738 of duty. What I propose, therefore, is, that the duty on colonial sugar shall be reduced after the 5th of July, in the present year, to 13s., and afterwards be further reduced a shilling a year till the duty reaches 10s. I propose that the duty on the ordinary foreign muscovado sugar shall remain according to the Act of 1846, but I shall propose a new distinctive duty with regard to the sugar called "brown clayed sugar," or of a quality equal thereto, which, for the year ending the 5th of July, 1849, shall remain at the present duty of 20s., and shall then be reduced Is. 6d. a year till it reaches 10s., on the 5th of July, 1854. The House will see, therefore, that the duty on colonial sugar will fall instantly to 13s. in 1848, 12s. in 1849, and 11s. in 1850; and that after these three years there will be a permanent duty of 10s. on colonial sugar. The foreign sugar in the same way, will fall 1s. 6d. every year until 1854, when after a period of six years, the duty will be 10s. As some hon. Gentleman may not have heard me, I will read to the House the proposed scale of duties:—
|Year ending July 5.||Foreign.||Colonial Muscovado.|
§ There will then not be the temptation to introduce these superior classes of sugar rather than the inferior kinds. It will be a new distinction as regards them, and the question which will be kept in view will be rather to reduce the duty on all sugars to 10s. than to maintain a permanent difference. Of course such a change in the duties will require corresponding changes in refined and double refined sugars, and also in white clayed sugar and molasses. I have said, that complaints have been made on the subject of rum, and that the differential duty on rum was still declared to be an injustice on the producers of rum in the West Indies It will be in the recollection of the House, that last year my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposed that a differential duty of 6d. should be imposed on rum. My right hon. Friend found, however, that there would be great difficulty in carrying 739 that reduction, and he consented to the substitution of 9d. for 6d., at the same time declaring that his opinion was a strong one that 6d. was sufficient. Now, in the Committee on Sugar and Coffee Planting, evidence was taken on this subject from a gentleman who had the merit of being impartial, while he possessed considerable knowledge and experience. I allude to Mr. John Wood, the Chairman of the Board of Excise. He said it was not for him to decide what the duty should be, but that if he were called on to decide, after hearing all the arguments which had been adduced, he should be disposed to say that 4d. was quite sufficient for a differential duty. Now, I think that after that statement made by a person in whom the greatest confidence may be placed, we cannot propose any greater amount than 4d. as a differential duty on rum. I think, at least, it will be admitted, while we act with a regard for the general interests of the empire, and find ourselves placed in difficulties in respect to the West Indian proprietors and proprietors of establishments elsewhere, that it would not do to say that we could not listen to the West Indian proprietors, on account of the interests established in this country. There is one question connected with this reduction of duty, which will, I believe, make it necessary for us to go backwards with reference to a permission granted a short time ago. According to the scale of duties proposed by my right hon. Friend, with reference to the introduction of sugar into breweries, there was no advantage gained by the introduction, unless the prices of malt rose very high. But with a reduced duty of 10s. there would be an obvious advantage given to the use of sugar in breweries. Now, we could hardly place all parties on an equality in this respect without a vexatious interference with the business of a brewer, and an inquisition into the concerns of the 40,000 establishments which are carried on for the purpose of brewing. I believe, therefore, it will be necessary to withdraw the permission given to use sugar in breweries. With regard to distilleries, however, I do not think it will be necessary to make any change. I have now given a general outline of the measure, and of the changes which we propose to make. I trust the House will bear in mind, in any proposition that they have to consider on this subject, whether the proposition of the Government or of any other party, that the 740 principles of the two Acts to which I have referred ought to be kept steadily in view. No desire to assist the West India proprietors ought to induce us in any way to impair that great Act for the abolition of slavery which it is the honour of this country to have carried into effect. I speak, of course, with regard to the importation of labour into the West Indies, and I have heard of plans according to which the purchase of negroes on the coast of Africa would be considered meritorious acts on the part of some of the legislatures in the West Indies. To any such measures as these I shall offer a decided opposition. But, next to keeping in view the principles of the Abolition Act, I think that we should keep steadily in sight the great object of the Act of 1846, which was to get sugar as cheap as it could be obtained consistently with the object of keeping up the revenue. In what I have proposed, I have not lost sight of that principle. I should very much lament if the House this year, when great distress prevails among the people of the country, and it has been thought necessary to maintain no less an amount of taxation than the country suffered in former years—I say, I should much lament if, for the sake of any interest, we increase the price of any article of consumption, and thereby injure the consumer. I have now stated what the proposition of the Government will be. I think it will be very convenient if Gentlemen will allow me to circulate, which I hope to do in the course of to-morrow, the scale which I propose as the altered scale of duties, and I shall then propose that on Monday we go into a Committee of the whole House for the purpose of considering the Act of 1846. I shall conclude by moving that the Act 9 and 10 Victoria be now read.
§ SIR R. H. INGLIS
would have thought it impossible, if he had not heard it, for such a statement to have been made by the noble Lord, without one passing reference to what he believed to be the deep-seated feeling of that House and of the country. The question before the House was not confined to the question whether the people of this country should have cheap sugar or not, but whether that sugar should be stained with the blood of the slave. He confessed that he had not thought it possible that the whole of that question could have been kept carefully out of sight. It was true that the First Minister of the Crown told them that he 741 desired to preserve intact the Act of 1834; but did he preserve intact the Act of 1807? Was it not almost equally a crime and a sin on our part, if wilfully, and with our eyes open, we did that which we knew necessarily must encourage the slave trade in every other part of the world? He wished everything to be cheap; but the question was whether there were not more important things in heaven and earth than cheap sugar? We were virtually returning to an abandoned system; and he grieved to think that it should be left to the Prime Minister, who bore so distinguished a part in the struggles which followed the Act of 1807, to come forward and propose a measure which practically legalised that in others which we ourselves had felt it our duty, in the sight of God and man, to forsake. Was it possible that, for the sake of a fraction of a penny in the pound, we should be parties to the perpetuation of the slave trade? With regard to the Act of 1834, he must say that he thought the expense of our humanity ought not to be thrown on the West Indies, on whom we at that time forced it. He contended that not merely the sufferings of the people of Africa ought to be regarded, but—though he hardly liked to bring them together in the same sentence—the condition of the white proprietors in the West Indies ought to be considered. There was something almost ridiculous in the proposition of Her Majesty's Government. He had to apologise to the House for rising at all; but he had wished to protest, in the first instance, against any statement from which it appeared to be almost a matter of indifference whether the slave trade was continued or not.
§ SIR J. PAKINGTON
could not refrain from expressing the great pain and disappointment with which he had listened to the speech of the noble Lord. He agreed with the hon. Baronet (Sir R. Inglis) in regretting that the First Minister of the Crown, when speaking of the operation of the Act of 1846, should not have taken notice of the fact that it had given the greatest possible stimulus to slavery and the slave trade; and he must also express the disappointment he felt that the noble Lord was not prepared to take a course which would be satisfactory to the merchants and planters connected with our West India colonies. He did not wonder that the noble Lord should have endeavoured to draw away their attention from the Act of 1848; but he should be able, 742 when the proper time came, to prove that if that Act did not originate the distress now felt by the West India interest, it was at least the cause of a large proportion of it. It was an Act full of injustice towards a large body of our fellow-subjects, and he could see no reason why they should be made to suffer on account of some alleged advantage to the rest of the community. The noble Lord had expressed a hope that the Acts of 1834 and of 1846 would be adhered to by that House. With respect to the Act of 1834, known as the Emancipation Act, he could with sincerity say he had no wish to alter it in the slightest degree; but he must at the same time observe, that the noble Lord himself had virtually departed from the spirit of that Act, and that the whole tendency of recent legislation was to stimulate that slavery which it was the object of the Emancipation Act to put down. So far as the Act of 1846 gave advantages to the consumer, he would support them so far as they were consistent with the fair rights and expectations of the colonists, who were now exposed to dangerous and ruinous competition. He had no idea, however, that the proposition of the noble Lord would be satisfactory to those parties most interested; and in those circumstances he should certainly feel it his duty, when the proper time came, to move an Amendment, the object of which would be to uphold the report of the Committee that had recently closed its labours, and which tended to do justice to our suffering colonies; at the same time to put an end to that legislation that had given so great a stimulus to the slave trade.
hoped the House would forgive him for declaring in the outset, as standing independent of all parties on this subject, that he would not bind himself by any such scale as that now proposed, or, indeed, by any scale whatever, whether coming from the Protectionist or non-Protectionist side of the House; but that he would now, as he had done over and over again, claim, on behalf of the West India colonists, the right to import their produce into the mother country free of all duties whatever. He had always advocated this claim; and so far as God gave him health and strength to maintain the position, he would contend, to the best of his ability, that the West India farmer had as good a right as the Scotch or Yorkshire farmer to import to this country the growth of his soil, free of all duties whatever. He only 743 wished, at present, to guard himself from giving assent to any scale or proposition, let that proposition come from any quarter, cither in or out of the House, or from doing anything that in future might prevent him from advocating the doctrine he had just expressed.
§ MR. BARKLY
expressed his deep regret that the measures of the noble Lord were so utterly insufficient to avert the ruin now hanging over the heads of the West India colonies. Certainly he was not very sanguine as to the result of the noble Lord's deliberations on this subject; and therefore he, for one, was not taken by surprise when he heard that result announced. He was ready to admit that the distress in the West India colonies had been accelerated—probably, even aggravated—by the commercial distress experienced in this country; but he must say, that the measure of 1846 was one of the chief causes of that distress; it had certainly, if it did not originate, consummated the ruin of those colonies. The real object, however, they were met to discuss, was, how they could best, in present circumstances, legislate for the benefit of the colonies; and they had the evidence of the Select Committee lately appointed to guide them—a Committee presided over by the noble Lord the Member for Lynn, who, whatever might be thought of his politics by hon. Gentlemen opposite, was admitted by all to have conducted that inquiry with equal ability and impartiality. That Committee, after long and deliberate inquiry, had recommended an alteration of the differential duties to 10s. per cwt. for six years, as the only means of saving the West Indies. Now, he was no admirer of protection—he was ready to admit many of the evils it inflicted; he acknowledged that there were peculiar objections to it in the present state of our West India colonies; but he could not see how that Committee, with the evidence which they had before them, could have come to any other conclusion than that at which they had arrived. The noble Lord at the head of the Government himself did not differ from them as to the principle of the conclusion at which they had arrived. He had admitted that more protection was necessary to the West India colonies, but he was not prepared to carry it out in the way proposed by the Committee. The noble Lord could neither make up his mind to reject or to adopt the conclusions of the Committee. He had no objection to violate his abstract 744 principles just so far as everybody told him would be of no possible utility; but he refused to move an inch further. He would give 7s. protection, but 10s. was out of the question. He must say, however, that the reasoning of the noble Lord would have been more consistent if he had refused to do anything at all on the subject. If the competition to which the planters had been exposed by the Bill of 1846, were a competition which they could sustain, why interrupt the progress of that measure at all—why suspend their sliding-scale? If on the other hand it never was reasonable to expect their colonies, cultivated by scarce and dear free-labour, to compete with slave-killing countries; if the result of the brief experiment they had tried, had been widespread ruin and bankruptcy among all connected with their sugar colonies, of what possible use was it to propose now to try the self-same experiments over again? He contended that any reduction of duty short of attaining the object the noble Lord professed to have in view, was just so much money thrown away. As to the immigration arrangements which were to be made, no one valued them more than he did, but it was evident that to produce any good result must be the work of years; and he would ask how the cultivation of the colonies was to be carried on in the meantime? For any good practical effect which would flow at present to the colonies, the sum of 500,000l. proposed for immigration might as well be thrown into the sea. The noble Lord had observed that the country could not afford to pay 3s. or 4s. per cwt. more for sugar in the shape of increased protection; but he thought the calculation which they ought to make was, how they could best secure for the people of this country a cheap and permanent supply of sugar—not a supply for one or two years only at a cheap rate, but how they were to produce at moderate prices a permanent supply of this necessary of life; and he would ask the noble Lord if he thought they would come nearer that by the extinction of one-third of the production of the British colonies? He certainly did not think that this was a likely way to lower permanently the price of sugar to the community. It might be asked what security was there if this protection were given, that the colonies would be better able to produce cheap sugar at the end of the time than now? Everything depended upon the Colonial Office. He looked on protection merely as a means to 745 an end. If, however, they gave encouragement by proper laws to repress vagrancy and squatting—if they got that support to immigration which they had a right to expect from this country—he had that firm reliance on the enterprise, skill, and energy of his fellow-countrymen connected with the colonies, as to believe that they would he able to heat foreigners out of the market, as they had done before. He knew that the most unfounded allegations had been made on this point in the last debate. Much had been said of their want of skill, and of their deficiency in scientific knowledge in the culture of their estates, and the character of their machinery; but he thought such charges came with an exceeding had grace after the course of treatment those colonists had undergone. He trusted that the ensuing discussion would he conducted with more candour. He hoped, at any rate, hon. Members would take the trouble to look at the evidence taken before the Committee, and to read the despatches from the Governors on this subject, before repeating these fallacies. Parliament had confiscated their property—let it not libel their characters. He could assure the House it was hard enough to suffer poverty, and social degradation, its usual accompaniment in this country—to find one's future reduced to fewer hundreds per annum than it once was thousands, solely and simply by the legislation of this country; but it was harder still to be blamed for results wholly beyond their control, and to hear every cause but the true one assigned for the ruin which had engulphed West India property, by those who at any rate had no excuse for not knowing better.
§ MR. BRIGHT
must protest against the assumption that no part of our dominions was suffering from distress, except the West Indian colonies. [Ironical cheers from the Protectionists.] Hon. Gentleman opposite were quite aware of what was the fact, but they did not acknowledge it. Gentlemen talked as if some extraordinary calamity had befallen the West India colonies, and as if there alone people were suffering extreme distress. Now it so happened, that during the last year the actual production of sugar in the West Indies was greater than it had been for many previous years. The question was one which related simply to the right of the West India planters to require the people of this country to make up for the calamity under which they were suffering. He protested on behalf of such 746 persons as he represented—he protested on behalf of the great body of the people, whose opinion he was certain he was now expressing—against an increase of taxation in the endeavour to revive the industry of the West Indies, which industry could only revive as any other industry would after periods of great distress. It was unnecessary to dwell on the distress of Ireland. That was well known. But if they looked to any branch of industry carried on in England, with the exception of agriculture, they would find that a degree of distress prevailed, which, if brought out in figures, would he greater than any that could be alleged of the West Indies—infinitely greater than any that prevailed among 92½ per cent of the people in the West Indies, such being the proportion of the black population. It was from exact knowledge, and from unfortunate experience, that he was able to state, with respect to the whole cotton-spinning and manufacturing body, that move than one-half of their capital—he spoke not of their fixed but of their floating capital—had been lost within the last two years; first, in consequence of the high price of corn, and, secondly, in consequence of the scarcity of cotton. The result had been to limit the time of work for the operatives to three days per week, and to reduce the income of the working population to half the usual amount. If such were the fact, and if efforts were made on behalf of all the parties interested in the cotton manufacture to have the value of their yarns, calicoes, and prints, raised by Act of Parliament, what would be the reception which such a proposition would meet? It might be said, indeed, that the eases were not parallel—that something had been done which had produced calamity in the case of the West Indies—and that it had been done by this House. He altogether disbelieved it; for it was in evidence before the Committee over which the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn had presided, that up to 1845 their state had been one of considerable prosperity. According to that evidence their distress had arisen from the Act of 1846; but the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken negatived that view of the matter, and proposed to go back to the Emancipation Act as the real cause of that distress. But there were volumes in the library of the House which showed that the West Indians had made the same complaints for the last fifty years, and that their prayers for monopoly, for protection, for increased 747 protection, were unremitting. It had been admitted that the money which the planters had received for the emancipation of their slaves had been applied in payment of mortgages on their properties. But what was the inference which such a fact justified? Either their pursuits had not been prosperous, or their course had been extravagant. Where, then, was the proof that the Act of 1834 or the Act of 1846 had been the cause of the distress of which the West Indians complained? And how could they ask that House to reimpose on the people of this country duties which had been removed with the greatest benefit? A return had been received within the last day or two with regard to the importation of raw cotton into this country since the year 1815. In 1815, and in previous years, it appeared from that return that there had been a considerable importation of cotton into this country from the West Indies. That importation had gradually fallen off; and the question suggested itself, how did it happen that a variety of articles, formerly produced in the West Indies, had not been produced there of late years? The cause, he believed, was, that in consequence of the protection afforded to certain articles of West Indian produce, cultivation in the West Indies had been directed to articles on which a protection duty existed, and diverted from others which might have otherwise been cultivated with advantage. A gentleman who had recently come from the West Indies had brought with him some nutmegs and cloves which had been grown there. He had samples of them in his pocket, and would be glad to show them to hon. Gentlemen opposite. The friend from whom he had received them, stated the prices of the nutmegs at 3s. per lb., and the cloves at 13d. or 14d. per lb. in bond. The gentleman who brought them from the West Indies gave it as his opinion that a very large trade might be carried on in those and many other articles; and he agreed in attributing the cessation of production as regarded certain articles of produce to the attention of the West Indian planters having been altogether directed to the cultivation of those articles on which a protecting duty existed. With respect to immigration from Africa into the West Indies, the clamour now made in favour of such a measure had been made a few years ago for Coolie immigration. To have a population out of proportion to the capital which there was to invest, would be of no service to the West 748 Indies. The failure of the Coolie immigration was admitted; and there could not be a greater calamity than the introduction of African immigrants into the West Indies at an expense of 500,000l., when there were no adequate means of rendering their labour available. It would be money thrown away. If by the expenditure of a large amount of public money they brought so many labourers into that colony, they would find after the lapse of a few years, as they had found in the case of the Coolies, that the whole system was wrong from beginning to end. Of the West Indian population 92½ per cent were black; to these a horde of uncultivated Africans were to be added. It was not, he suspected, intended to take over an equal proportion of women; they were going to bring into these colonies, where so happy and contented a negro community now existed, elements of social evil and contamination, which would more than counterbalance any advantage which might be secured in the diminished price of labour. Adverting to what had fallen from the hon. Member for the University of Oxford, he thought it was audacity in any one to stand up in that House under the fancy that justice to Africa was to be done by injustice to England, and that the cause of emancipation could be advanced by adopting the principle on which monopolies were based. He agreed with the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Barkly) in thinking that by proposing an alteration of the Act of 1846, the noble Lord had given rise to the supposition that the Act of 1846 was not a judicious measure. It would have been better had the noble Lord adhered to that Act, as embodying the solemn opinion and decision of Parliament—an opinion and decision which had been ratified by the country, and confirmed by the experience they had had of its operation in respect of the public revenue. The alteration was not very material; but it was calculated to throw dust in the eyes of the House, so that under a discontent existing on all hands the Government might be able to carry their proposition. If he were a Member of a Government—which he certainly hoped he never would be, as he hoped the House would give him credit for sincerity in saying so—and if he were called upon to decide in such capacity on the course he should take in the present instance, he would declare that he believed the Bill which it was proposed to alter to be sound in principle, and most important as regarded not only the Exchequer 749 but the people of the country; and, having made that declaration, he should take his stand upon that ground; and if he could not maintain the measure against the efforts of interested parties, he should at once go out of office. One word of warning to hon. Members opposite as to their predictions. The country had passed through a period of unexampled difficulty. Hon. Gentlemen pointed to the last two years—they pointed to the sufferings which had been felt in Lancashire as consequent on the introduction of free trade in corn—but of this he could assure those hon. Gentlemen, that there was not a man in Lancashire who had been in favour of free trade in corn before the Legislature proceeded to act on that principle, who was not now of the same opinion. By the bounty of Divine Providence they had now a larger supply of corn—there was abundance growing for their consumption in America. These Were the elements of prosperity for this country, which no predictions of evil could prevent from developing themselves. Prosperity would again prevail in Lancashire among all the industrial classes. Hon. Gentlemen should beware of what they predicted; for the newspapers would record, and Hansard would perpetuate, whatever they said now, to their confusion and discomfiture when the event was seen. Let hon. Gentlemen ask their tenantry whether, if the present prospects were realised, the price of wheat would not be below 40s. at Christmas? With wheat at free-trade prices, they would not thank hon. Members for increasing taxes and adding to the price of sugar. The Government, he believed, would find that the public feeling would be much more lasting in their favour were they to ascertain and assert what were sound principles; and he had no doubt that the country would firmly maintain and support any Government which strenuously adhered to the principle of the Act of 1846.
§ MR. BAILLIE
thought the hon. Member for Manchester, who had just sat down, was the only Member of the House who would have had the audacity to assume to represent the great body of the people of this country. The hon. Member represented the cotton interests of Manchester, and had attempted to draw a comparison with respect to the legislation of this country for the cotton interests of this country and the colonists of the West Indies; but he (Mr. Baillie) would ask why the cotton of the Americans was admitted duty free, 750 while the sugar of our West Indian colonists was taxed 14s. a cwt.? He did not think that this proposal of the noble Lord would be deemed satisfactory by those who thought that Government should adopt measures to save our West Indian colonists from the ruin with which they were threatened. There were two courses which the noble Lord might have adopted. He might have come boldly and frankly before the House, and stated that, believing the principle of the Bill of 1846 to be fair and just, he was determined to maintain it, whatever the consequences might be. Or he might have stated that, believing the principle of the Bill to be fair and just, that, nevertheless, taking into consideration the peculiar circumstances of the case—taking into consideration that the Bill of 1846 had tended to produce great distress in the colonies, and had also tended to increase the slave trade—he was prepared to relax that Bill for a certain period until the colonies were supplied with labour; and that until that time arrived he would afford the colonists effectual protection. The noble Lord had not thought proper to pursue either course. He had, to a certain extent, relaxed the Bill of 1846, and thereby admitted its injustice; but he was not going to give anything that could be deemed effectual protection. So far as the colonies were concerned, it was a matter of indifference to them whether the Bill of 1846 were carried out strictly, or the proposed relaxations were adopted. In either case their ruin must be complete; and it were better for them it took place at once, than that they should be exterminated by a slow and tedious, but no less sure and certain process. All accounts from the West Indies bore ample testimony that the Bill of 1846 had given an immense impulse to the slave trade. When that Bill was under discussion in that House, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Tamworth had clearly and distinctly pointed out the inevitable consequence of the measure in increasing the slave trade. He stated, however, that he supported the Bill, lest, by opposing it, he should cause the Government to retire from office, at a time when no other Government could be formed. He would ask, was the House of Commons to give its support year after year, to measures of which it disapproved—measures which the majority believed to be unjust—because there were no men in England to be found capable of earrying on the Government of this country? 751 He would rather see a Chartist Government, or any other, in office, than lend himself to a course of action so humiliating and unconstitutional. He confessed his surprise that Her Majesty's Government should, from a fear of any hostile majority, have been deterred from carrying into effect any measure which they believed to be just. It would have been better if the Government had come forward and boldly and manfully declared that they would stand or fall by the Bill of 1846, rather than introduce a measure which, while on the one hand, it gave no effectual relief to the colonial interests, on the other substantially violated that measure which the noble Lord and the Chancellor of the Exchequer emphatically declared they were determined to maintain.
§ MR. COBDEN
It was not my intention to take any part in the discussion of this question to-night, and I would not have risen but for the remarks of the hon. Member who has just sat down, with reference to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester (Mr. Bright). He used rather a strong word when he spoke of the "audacity" of my hon. Friend. [Mr. BAILLIE: It was his own expression.] I was not aware that my hon. Friend had used that term. [Mr. BAILLIE: He applied it to the hon. Baronet the Member for the University of Oxford.] That is hardly a sufficient excuse, I think, for the hon. Gentleman in using the term in the way he did to my hon. Friend. But there was another allusion which he made to my hon. Friend, which I wish particularly to refer to. He described him as the representative of the cotton interest. Now, I am the representative of the woollen interest, an indigenous industry, of which there is no jealousy in this House, and which is honoured by the President of the other House sitting on the Woolsack. I am the representative of a, county which was eminent in the slavery movement. No one can deny that Yorkshire, by returning Wilberforce on antislavery grounds, and by becoming the headquarters of the slavery movement, was intimately connected with the cause of negro emancipation, and that its sympathies must naturally be in favour of the negro everywhere. Now, I unhesitatingly assert that nearly all the men who led the agitation for the emancipation of the slaves, and who by their influence on public opinion aided in producing that result, are against those hon. Gentlemen in this House who advocate a differential duty on foreign sugar 752 with a view to put down slavery abroad. I am well acquainted with the existing state of opinion in Yorkshire, and I defy any one to controvert the assertion that hon. Members opposite are acting in direct opposition to the prevailing sentiment in that county, when they advocate a differential duty on slave-grown sugar. Hon. Gentlemen should not forget that Yorkshire and Lancashire are suffering distress as well as the West Indies. I attended a deputation from Bradford which waited upon the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for Home Affairs a few days ago, with the view of obtaining some assistance to alleviate the great distress prevailing in that town. I heard a member of that deputation state that he had nearly 1,000 working people out of employment in Bradford; and that for the last 18 months it would have been more profitable for many of the manufacturers to have closed their establishments and not to have employed one of their workmen. They stated, also, that they were levying poor-rates to an enormous amount for the sustenance of the population there. The deputation went away without the slightest hope that either the Government or this House would interfere in any way to relieve the people from their distress. Well, it is very natural for these persons when they see the West Indians coming to this House and pressing for a remedy for their distress, and when they see money voted and taxes raised for the purpose of sustaining a fraction of the population of the West Indies—for you must bear in mind that it is only 7½ per cent of the population there who are distressed at all—I say it is very natural for the people of Yorkshire, and of Bradford in particular, to feel discontented when they see money voted and relief given to a favoured interest, and no relief given to themselves whatever. I therefore think it fair, as the representative of an important district not connected with that kind of industry—I mean the cotton trade—which seems to meet so little favour in this House, to add my testimony to that of my hon. Friend, that in voting money to the West Indians, you are not pursuing a course that will he satisfactory to the people of Yorkshire, or of the country generally. I do not intend to enter upon the question which has been raised by an hon. Member opposite, as to allowing the West Indian produce to enter this country duty free. That could be easily answered; but I shall reserve myself on that point till 753 Monday. I merely rose for the purpose of repeating the opinion of my hon. Friend, and I shall not say another word to prevent us going into the subject of the navigation laws, which I believe is waiting for the consideration of the House.
§ MR. HUME
must express his deep regret at the statement which had been made by the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell). Were he connected with the West Indies he should much prefer the existing Act as it stood; for the proposal of the noble Lord would only prolong a lingering existence, while at the same time it would occasion a loss to the revenue of this country. He confessed he could not understand how the noble Lord and his Colleagues, after protesting, as they had repeatedly done, that nothing would induce them to alter or meddle with that Act, could now come down to that House, and unblushingly propose an alteration almost equivalent to its repeal—for they might as well have proposed its repeal as the alteration they now proposed. He, therefore, must express his deep regret at the statement made by the noble Lord. It had been his (Mr. Hume's) intention last Session, and also again at the commencement of the present Session, to bring the question of the West Indies before the House—but upon grounds very different from those entertained by some of his free-trade Friends, who, in his opinion, took a one sided view of the matter altogether. His hon. Friend the Member for the West Riding had put, without hesitation, the manufacturers of Yorkshire and Lancashire on the same footing as the West India proprietors. Now, the fact was, that the one had abundance of labourers—more, indeed, than they could employ; and the others had too few, and were refused the means of obtaining more. The two cases rested upon an entirely different footing, because in Bradford and the other manufacturing towns there was no law in existence to prevent the manufacturers obtaining as many labourers as they pleased; whereas the West India proprietors had ever since 1837 been prevented by our legislation and Orders in Council from obtaining that supply of labourers which they so much required. He held upon the best principles of free trade that they were bound to give relief to the parties who were oppressed by our legislation. The course which the Government ought to have taken was to have added to the supply of labourers in our West Indian colonies, and to have given 754 the proprietors the means of fairly competing with their opponents. This would have been far better than the proposed flittering away of the public money, which would do no good to the parties who got it; for unless something was done to restore confidence in those colonies, and to give them the means of manufacturing sugar cheaper than in the slave colonies, their utter ruin must inevitably ensue. He agreed that protection would never put an end to the distress. He had always contended that by making free labour cheaper than slave labour they could alone put down slavery. He looked upon the money spent in maintaining blockading fleets on the coast of Africa as so much waste, and he deeply regretted to see different Governments, year after year, spending a million in this way. The measure for emancipating the slaves was proposed, he admitted, with the best intentions; and they could not conceal from themselves that so overwhelming was the public feeling at that time in favour of abolition that no Government could have resisted it. Still it was carried in such a hasty and precipitate manner that it could hardly be expected that good could come from it. A Committee, of which Sir Fowell Buxton was chairman, sat for an entire Session, and heard the opponents of the West Indians. The Committee came to no report, but they recommended that they should be allowed to sit again next Session to enable the colonists to tell their tale. The colonists were ready to enter upon their defence, and to show the preliminary measures that were necessary to be adopted before emancipation could take place with any reasonable hope of success; but the House would not listen to them; and the proposition for emancipation was brought forward and hurried through with a discreditable degree of haste. Unless measures were speedily taken to supply the means of labour in the colonies, the result, he maintained, must be their utter ruin; and then it would appear to the whole world that after all the sacrifices and exertions we had made, emancipation had failed. This was not a question of pounds, shillings, and pence; it was a question of humanity. He had resisted the grant of 20,000,000l. when it was proposed, until it should first be ascertained by a Committee that it could be advanced with safety, and the requisite preparations made for so great and important a change; but the House hooted 755 him down. The then Speaker, Mr. Abercrombie, told him he would not get six Members to vote with him, and he did not press his Motion; which he now very much regretted—for experience had shown how rash all their proceedings had been. He hoped that that error would not be repeated, but that the House would now seriously consider the propriety of adopting some means for rendering the great measure of emancipation successful, for if it failed it would be a disgrace to the whole world, and we need never expect to see any other attempt made for the freedom of the slave.
MR. H. DRUMMOND
did not rise for the purpose of prolonging the discussion except for a moment. The hon. Gentleman who had just spoken, had said that it would be impossible to cultivate sugar by free labour, unless the number of labourers in the colonies was so large as to ensure their being had at a low rate. Now, he was persuaded that if they sent labourers to these colonies in their present condition, the result would be that they would settle upon the lands, and they would get no labour from them at all. He believed it was well known that the negroes could live perfectly well there upon 6d. a day; and this being the case he believed that they would "squat" upon the lands and be of little or no use to the proprietors. He objected to the way the colonists were treated by hon. Gentlemen opposite, not because he objected to free-trade principles to their utmost extent, but because they wanted to have free trade between South America and Jamaica, having previously destroyed the machinery in Jamaica by which sugar was made. Suppose that in Lancashire the spinning-jennies and mules were all destroyed, how absurd would it be then to talk of free trade between the manufacturers of Lancashire and Yorkshire! The question for the House to consider was not the mere question of cheapness. The question for the House to consider was something more than the mere cotton and sugar interest. It was, how they were to preserve our colonies; and in his opinion, if the Government were not prepared to submit a comprehensive and effectual measure, it would be infinitely better to leave them as they were.
§ MR. P. MILES
could not let that opportunity pass without stating his belief that the measure of Her Majesty's Government would not save the colonies. He had thought the Government would con- 756 tent themselves with some half-measure on the subject, and he had not been disappointed. The colonies were on the brink of ruin, and the noble Lord proposed to save them by giving them that which could be of no service to them. The differential duty enjoyed under the present classification in West India muscovado sugar, as compared with white Havana, was not more at that moment than 5d. How could the colonies be saved by a reduction of 18d. in the differential duty? It would be far better to let the islands remain in the same state than to pass such a measure as might induce them to carry on the manufacture of sugar for some two or three years longer, and then leave them as badly off as ever. To show the state of distress in which the colonies were involved, he would quote a despatch in the blue book laid on the table yesterday. And here he could not but say he did not think the House had been treated quite fairly by the Colonial Office with respect to these returns. Fully a month had elapsed since he asked for these despatches, and he was assured by the Government that no delay should take place in presenting them. Notwithstanding this they were only laid on the table yesterday, and it could hardly be expected, with this question coming on so soon, that hon. Members could read through a blue book some two or three inches thick in the interval. The despatch to which he referred was from Lord Harris, the Governor of Trinidad, to Earl Grey, dated April 5, 1848. He said—It is sad and painful to behold men expecting ruin quickly to overtake them; it is perhaps sadder and more painful to see them struggling and toiling against adversity, but with their energies dulled, and their arms palsied, from the knowledge that their labours must be unremunerative, and that failure can be the sole result; it is most distressing to witness this, and at the same time to be aware that much of the misery from which they are suffering, and that which awaits them, is of a nature which they are unable to avert by any acts of their own. It is pitiable to witness a fine colony daily deteriorating; a land enjoying almost every blessing under heaven, suffering from a shock from which it does not rally; but the deepest pang of all, to an Englishman, is to see the hearts and the affections of a whole population becoming gradually alienated irom the country which he loves. It is impossible for me to express too forcibly the extent of the present distress. I could quote to your Lordship estates, as far as their soil is concerned, of great value, and giving previously to emancipation a large income, on which the whole of the redemption money was expended in improvements; which were entirely free from debt at that time, and which are now 757 mortgaged almost to their Ml value, and their proprietors, resident Creoles, too, from being in good circumstances, reduced to the last extremities. In these cases the want of labour at a fair rate has been the chief cause of their embarrassments; they surely have some claim for assistance from the mother country. Moreover, under the present grave circumstances of Europe, and the world in general, I would add, that if the power of England, and her interests, are to be maintained in this portion of it—and I think they are worth maintaining—it would not be impolitic that some sympathy of a practical nature should be shown, and as early as practicable, by the mother country.He would trouble them with another extract from the despatch of Sir C. Grey to Earl Grey, dated Jamaica, 21st of February, 1848, received 27th of March, and laid before the House June 15th:—A permanent Gazette price of less than 30s. the hundred-weight for West India muscovado, I firmly believe will cause the greater portion of the sugar cultivation of this island to be abandoned; and if I were to be called upon for a recommendation founded upon the most comprehensive and painstaking review of the whole subject which I am capable of making, it would be, that, as far as still more important State affairs will permit, the duties on British muscovado should be brought towards the limit of 1d. per pound, and those on foreign to 2d., liable to special relaxations in favour of such foreign States as should bind themselves by treaty to give a similar measure of justice to their labourers as we give to ours.So far from the Gazette price of sugar being 30s. it was not more than 21s. The House, then, might understand how considerable as well as inevitable must be the ruin of the sugar interests in the islands. For a long time the West Indies had had a bad supply of labour, and it did not appear from the statement of the noble Lord that there was any prospect of improvement in this respect. Reference had been made to the East Indies on this subject, but it was evident the supply of labour made a material difference between them and the West. Having referred to the evidence of Mr. Hawes before the Committee, where that hon. Gentleman was reported to have said that there was a likelihood of the West Indies having a better supply of labour in future, but from what causes he could not at that moment perceive, the hon. Member concluded by suggesting that, in consequence of the great importance of the result, the sailing of the West India packet should be deferred from to-morrow evening to Tuesday morning.
§ MR. HENLEY
could not but think the principles of morality advocated by the hon. Gentlemen opposite (Mr. Cobden and Mr. Bright) 758 very extraordinary indeed, nor could he avoid protesting against their reception by that House. The noble Lord (Lord John Russell) certainly had stated that the Government would maintain the principles of the Emancipation Act of 1834, and had enforced that statement at the beginning and termination of his speech; but he could assure the noble Lord he was very much mistaken if he thought the people of this country would be satisfied with a mere verbal adherence to the letter and terms of the Act, while its principle was utterly abrogated and done away with. He could not help congratulating the House on the very extraordinary change which had come over the hon. Member for the West Riding (Mr. Cobden), and on the very thin-skinned condition at which he appeared to have arrived. The hon. Member had got up quite in a storm of indignation at the idea of any hon. Member using the term "audacity" in that House, altogether forgetting the fact that this very term "audacity" had been used by his own Friend (Mr. Bright) towards the hon. Member for Oxford. The word was not unparliamentary, and he was astonished at the indignation. The hon. Member and his Friends had declared bad harvests had nothing to do with the state of the country. Hansard would prove that these Gentlemen promised the country, that if their nostrum were adopted, all misfortunes would be relieved, and distress removed. Then bad harvests had nothing to do with distress; it was bad legislation which caused it all. Now, it appeared that hon. Gentlemen changed their tone, and said their measures had failed, for the very reasons to which they before refused to assign any weight. The hon. Gentleman had said, too, he would give up the honour of the country if he could get ships cheaper. [Mr. COBDEN: No!] It had certainly been so stated over and over again, and the hon. Gentleman had used in his hearing expressions to a similar effect. It would appear that he was now prepared to give up the humanity of the country if he could get sugar cheaper. [Mr. COBDEN: NO, no!] He could tell the hon. Gentleman, however, he (Mr. Henley) did not believe the people of this country would accept cheap sugar at such a price.
§ MR. HUDSON
had heard two or three assertions from hon. Gentlemen opposite which rather astonished him. He had been forewarned by the hon. Member for 759 Manchester (Mr. Bright), when he declared the effect of the repeal of the corn laws would be that corn would be down to 40s., that he was a false prophet. The hon. Member for the West Riding and his Colleagues had ridiculed the idea of such a price; but they were very nearly realised. These hon. Gentlemen now attributed the distress to the state of the cotton market. But cotton was lower now than it had ever been. It was never, during the last year, higher than 6½d. a lb., and in times back it never had been lower than 10½d. a lb. He would not offend the delicate ears of the hon. Member by any strong terms; but he really was astonished that any hon. Member should get up and state the distress of the manufacturing interest arose from the high price of cotton. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Cobden) had boasted that Yorkshire furnished all the early friends of emancipation; but he begged to tell him it was not from his (Mr. Cobden's) district they came. The chairman of Mr. Wilberforce's Committee (Lord Faversham) was no cotton manufacturer, nor were any other of his foremost friends and assistants.
MR. E. DENISON
The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Cobden) had described an interview between a deputation from Lancashire and Yorkshire and the President of the Board of Trade, with respect to the state of the manufacturing districts, and had attempted to draw a parallel case between those districts and the West Indies. But there was this difference between them, that the legislation of the House with respect to Yorkshire and Lancashire had been entirely in accordance with the wishes of their inhabitants, and therefore those districts could not, with any justice, ask assistance from the House in any matters affecting the law; while the legislation adopted with respect to the West Indies had been distinctly opposed to the wishes of the people. In every resolution of the Committee over which the noble Lord (Lord G. Bentinck) presided, he had found a principle something similar to that laid down by the hon. Member who had lately joined the Administration, and who was a great authority on these points, when he declared in terms, "that if Parliament should agree with the opinion of the Committee, that it was incumbent on them to grant relief to the sugar growing colonies, it should be afforded at once." That, as he took it, was an admission that some compensation was due, in the hon. Gentleman's opinion, to the West Indies. With 760 respect to these questions, he entirely disagreed with the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for the West Riding (Mr. Cobden), and, as an honest man, he must declare his belief that compensation was due to those colonies. The question for them now to consider was, whether the proposition of Her Majesty's Government held out any hope to the West Indies, in the way recommended by the Committee. With great regret he had to say that, as far as his knowledge went, the proposition of the noble Lord would not avert the ruin which threatened them. He, for one, would be ready to join any party in taking any reasonable course to avert such a great calamity.
§ MR. HERRIES
said, the noble Lord at the head of Her Majesty's Government was placed in a very unenviable position, in consequence of the statement he had made to the House. A number of hon. Members had spoken, but not one of them approved of the noble Lord's proposition, or had given it his support. On the contrary, every one of them had intimated his intention of opposing it on some ground or another. After a Committee, conducted with such extraordinary ability by the noble Lord (Lord George Bentinck), had sat for such a length of time, and had produced such a mass of information as never yet had been laid on the table of the House on any one subject—after it had issued reports and come to resolutions and counter resolutions—the result was, that the Government brought forward a measure which did not meet one of the requirements which they had recommended, or the approbation of any one Member of the House. The noble Lord's proposition was no measure—it was a mere pretext for a measure; it was a mere attempt to get rid of a question surrounded, he admitted, by embarrassments, but deserving of earnest attention. The measure positively proposed no remedy for any one of the great evils which abounded in that most difficult and painful question. He could not help agreeing with the hon. Baronet the Member for the University of Oxford, when he said he had heard with surprise the speech of the noble Lord on this subject. Bound up as it was with the consideration of the slave question, which had been treated in such a way, and which had been so complicated by our recent legislation, that instead of lessening we had aggravated its tremendous evils, it was to have been expected that the noble Lord would have said something at least in re- 761 ference to it; but not one word had he uttered with respect to the possible result of the measure, nor of any remedy for the evils which we had encouraged by our legislation; not one word of the noble Lord's speech adverted to that most difficult question. The country stood in this position. After having expended, rightly, as he believed, a very large sum of money in abrogating the slave trade—after having for a long series of years made monstrous efforts at great expense, and with no small opposition and difficulty on the part of other States, to obtain the consent of the European Powers in putting an end to slavery, this House passed an Act which gave the greatest possible encouragement to that detestable traffic, and exhibited them, on the one hand, declaring their intention to make every effort to suppress slavery, and, on the other, doing their best to encourage it. The result had been, as they were informed on evidence they could not doubt, that they had greatly added to the suffering condition of the slaves; and yet when the noble Lord brought forward a measure intimately connected with the subject, he had not during the whole of his speech once adverted to it. The alternative was plain. They must either put down the slave trade, or must agree to continue it in the colonies. If they pursued their present course they would ruin the colonies—perhaps they intended to do so. At all events the present measure could have no effect in attaining the end proposed by it. That object was, he supposed, to afford something of relief to the West Indies; but the measure held out no real relief to them, nor any escape from ruin. Did the noble Lord for one moment believe that an alteration in the duty to the extent of 1s. could have such an effect over prices as to affect the consumption of sugar in this country? Any one the least conversant with public business would tell him that it could not have any such effect; next he proposed, among other things, to assign the West Indians some 500,000l., as he supposed by way of loan, in order to enable them to introduce free labour; but could it be supposed for a moment that such a sum would enable them to do so on a scale large enough to afford them effectual assistance? He did not mean to go into a discussion of the whole question on this occasion; but he thought that it did not require waiting until Monday in order to come to the opinion that the scheme proposed by the noble Lord must end in 762 entire failure. His decided opinion was, that the noble Lord would be disappointed if he hoped to see any of the beneficial results which he professed to anticipate from this measure. He could not believe that it would be productive of benefit to any of the interests involved in it. He wished to add one word as to the financial results with regard to this country. He did not anticipate that the alteration of one shilling could effect such a change in the price of sugar as would lead to an increased consumption of the article to any considerable extent so as to have an effect on the revenue. He wished therefore to know how it was that the right hon. Gentleman opposite (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) intended to wind up the incomplete budget which the House had as yet only before them. They had hitherto been endeavouring to ward off the labours which they would have to get through, or, he should more properly say, they had been shirking through the business of the Session, but he would remind them that sooner or later they must take into consideration the loss of the revenue that must be increased by this—he would say it without moaning any disrespect—very futile measure proposed by the noble Lord.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I am glad to have beard the views of the right hon. Gentleman before addressing the House, because, though we have heard a great number of Gentlemen on this question, we have been hitherto left without the slightest clue to any sort of remedy that it was proposed to apply, to meet the evils that are admitted to press on the West India colonies. My hon. Friend the Member for Montrose talked of a large measure and of large supplies of labour, but without telling the House what that large measure ought to be, or how the large supply of labour was to be obtained. We have had proposals on the part of the West India planters to enable them to buy slaves in the barracoons on the coast of Africa, on the understanding that they were to be set free on reaching the West Indies; but that is a measure which I am happy to say Her Majesty's Government will never consent to; for, whatever might be said to the contrary, there can be no doubt but that by adopting such a system, you would give a most direct encouragement to the internal slave trade of Africa. Whether my hon. Friend the Member for Montrose would go that length in proposing his extensive measure 763 or not, I am unable to say, but I hope he would not do so. And yet, short of such a plan, I cannot see what the extensive measure of my hon. Friend could be, for I know of no other restriction to the importation of free labour into the West India colonies that could be removed by the Legislature. If any measure short of this to which I have alluded be proposed to the House, I will answer not only for the Government, but for the Colonial Office, that it will receive every consideration and assistance that can be afforded to it. We are most anxious to promote every admission of free labour that can be desired in the colonies, provided only that the labourers came of their own free will. I have again to say that I should be exceedingly glad to know what the measures for procuring a greater amount of free labour into the West India colonies, short of an encouragement to the slave trade, are to be. I believe that the great difficulty which has been found to exist in this matter is that of the want of money, which the Government now propose to meet, and that, with the exception of the want of sufficient funds, there is no obstacle whatever that the Legislature could remove, preventing the colonists from importing any amount of labour that they may require. But the right hon. Gentleman at once comes to the question with a proposal for excluding all slave-grown sugar altogether, for I understood him to say that the only choice that was left for us was either to exclude slave-grown sugar, or to adhere to the system of encouragement to slavery. [Mr. HERRIES: I never said anything of the kind.] I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon, but I certainly understood him to say that we must choose between the encouragement of slavery, by the admission of slave-grown sugar, or the carrying out of the Act of 1844 by excluding slave-grown sugar altogether from this country. If the right hon. Gentleman, however, will be good enough to explain what he did say, I will be most anxious to hear him. I certainly understood the right hon. Gentleman to express himself as I have stated; and my noble Friend on my left (Lord John Russell), and my right hon. Friend on my right (Mr. Labouchere), understood him as I did, and they cheered him at the time. As he has not taken occasion to explain what he did say, I have only to repeat my regret that I have misrepresented him. But if we are to exclude slave-grown sugar from this country, as I understood the right hon. 764 Gentleman to contend for—[Mr. HERRIES: I never said a word about positive exclusion of slave-grown sugar.] I am obliged to my right hon. Friend for his explanation. It now appears that he did not mean to exclude entirely slave-grown sugar, as he would admit it at a high differential duty; but I would beg to remind him that the Bill of 1844 did, to a certain extent, directly admit slave-grown sugar. The Act of 1844 admitted the slave-grown sugar of Venezuela and the United States. ["Oh!"] Will hon. Gentlemen deny that the Bill of 1844 admitted the slave-grown sugar of these countries at the same rate of duty as the free-labour sugar of other foreign countries? and, if we were right in the construction which we put at the time upon other treaties, it admitted Cubar sugar also. Hon. Gentlemen opposite may deny that construction of the treaty if they please, but my decided impression is that our view of the question at the time was right. But in 1846 the great majority of the House affirmed the principle of the admission of slave-grown sugar. The principle was distinctly affirmed of free trade in sugar as well as in corn; and the only point that then remained for consideration was, not the ultimate exclusion of slave-grown sugar, but the maintenance of a system of protection for an adequate time, in order to enable the colonists to introduce a sufficiency of free labour, so as ultimately to enable them to compete with the slave-producing countries. And it was then asserted, as it has been to-night, that the only chance which there is of putting down slave labour is by the superior cheapness of free labour. But if that principle be admitted, as it is, by West Indian interests themselves, it would appear that we are now to retrograde to an extraordinary extent, for even the principle that was contended for in the Committee of which the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn was chairman, was only that the protection was to be continued for a further period of six years, that being thought an adequate time to allow the colonists to compete with slave-labour countries. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Leominster (Mr. Barkly) would not go even that length; and his proposal was for a duty of 10s. for two years, and then a falling off into the existing scale of duties. But everybody that I know, except the right hon. Gentleman alone, contemplates that at some period or other, some say after six years, others after five years, and others after two years, the entire 765 removal of the differential duty. The question is, therefore, unless we are to go back from the decision of the House by a large majority in 1846, and the decision of the Committee in this very year, for what time is protection to be given? and it is not a question for the prevention of slave-grown sugar altogether from being imported into this country. When the question comes to be discussed on Monday night, I shall be prepared to show that the proposal of the Government is a better one than any of those which I have mentioned; but at the same time I was never sanguine enough to suppose that any proposal that Government might make would meet with any great favour from some hon. Gentlemen opposite. The hon. Member for Droitwich, I understand, intends to move an Amendment on Monday night to carry out the proposal of the Committee for the maintenance of a differential duty for six years; but I believe the views entertained by Her Majesty's Government will be supported by a large majority of the House. I, for one, am certainly not prepared to increase the protection given to the West Indian colonies; but at the same time I think it may be desirable to give them the confidence that will be afforded them of having a longer protection than they would have under the Act of 1846; and I do not think that in taking that course we would be in the least degree departing from the principle of the Act of 1846. It is a transition state from the principle of protection to the principle of free-trade, and, as I have always held, I think it is desirable, in that transition state, to deal delicately and tenderly with the protected interests. The right hon. Gentleman said that he could have obviated the evils of the Act of 1846, and I am exceedingly sorry that he did not suggest any of the measures by which he would propose to do so. I put off the decision of the Committee for two or three days with the object of receiving suggestions; but the advocates of the West India proprietors said that they had no suggestions to offer. My right hon. Friend, however, knows that I would have been most happy to hear any propositions that might be put forward. I fully admit that it is desirable for the colonies to enable them to maintain their cultivation. I further believe that it is for the interest of this country that that cultivation should be maintained; and it is on that principle that the Government propose 766 this measure, and not on any ground of altering the principle of the Act of 1846, which acknowledged for a certain period the necessity of enabling the colonies to compete with slave labour. We believe that materials exist in this measure for enabling the colonists to compete with slave labour in the only way in which it is admitted that slave labour can be met—by the competition of free labour; and to that competition, it is further admitted, the colonies must sooner or later come. I have only one word to say as to the effect of this measure on the revenue. Between the proposal for maintaining a differential duty of 20s. on foreign sugar, and 10s. on colonial sugar, and the proposal of Her Majesty's Government, I think there can be no doubt but that the proposal of the Government is the more advantageous to the revenue. The proposal of the Committee, which would entail a loss of 4s. a cwt. on colonial sugar, would be equivalent, supposing that the consumption of 1847 were to continue, to a loss of 960,000l., and there was no chance of any increase of consumption that would make up such a deficiency. On the other hand, according to the evidence laid before the Committee, to which the right hon. Gentleman attached so much value, the additional importation under the proposed change would not be less than 20,000 tons; but I will suppose that it will not exceed 15,000 tons; if these 15,000 tons were entirely colonial sugar, the loss would be 45,000l. If they were 10,000 colonial and 5,000 foreign sugar, the loss would be but 10,000l; and if the consumption happened to arrive at 20,000 tons, the whole loss would be more than made up by the increased consumption. I do not think, therefore, that I need calculate on any considerable loss to the revenue by the proposition of the Government. As I said before, the proposal of the Committee would involve a deficiency of 960,000l.; whereas our proposal, taking the increase at only 15,000 tons, and at the minimum rate of duty, would not exceed 45,000l.
said, that it was not to be considered as conclusive against the measure, that nobody seemed to agreed in approbation of it. It was a characteristic of the evidence given before the Committee, that none of the witnesses agreed as to the remedy to be applied. They all certainly admitted the great distress under which the colonies suffered, but they could not agree in any remedy by which that 767 distress could be met. The same want of unanimity seemed to prevail in that House. He was sure that if any stranger had come into the House that night, and had heard the speech of his hon. Friend the Member for Montrose, knowing at the same time the vigorous manner in which his hon. Friend had always advocated the principles of free trade, he would have been astounded at the sentiments to which his hon. Friend had given utterance. The result to which a stranger would arrive was, that his hon. Friend had been blaming the Legislature, in the first place, for abolishing slavery; and, in the next place, for having adopted the principles of free trade. For his own part, he could never understand his hon. Friend on the subject of the West Indies; but he had no doubt his hon. Friend would explain his views more fully on Monday next. Though there was much difference of opinion among the witnesses examined before the Committee, there was one point on which all were agreed, that the colonists wanted a freer access to labour than they now enjoyed. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stamford had spoken of the proposal of Government as a very paltry measure to remedy this evil; but he would beg to remind him that the hon. Member for Bristol, who gave evidence before the Committee, and who was a witness as well as a judge in the matter, had declared that it was not so much a great addition of labour that was required in the colonies, as the moral results of a feeling on the part of the negro population that the colonists could procure such an additional amount of labour as they might find necessary. In fact, the hon. Gentleman thought that there was perhaps a sufficient amount of labour in the colonies already, but that the idea existed among the negroes that they could command their own terms from the proprietors; and he thought that all that was necessary was to let them see that they would not have it all their own way, but that facilities would be given by the Government to introduce additional labour into the colonies. Now, if this view were correct, the present measure, though it could not lay claim to the title of a great and comprehensive scheme, was one in the right direction; and though the 500,000l. might not go a great way, it would still meet the views of the proprietors, and show the negro population that a power was given by the Government to the proprietors to import such additional labour as they might require.
§ LORD G. BENTINCK
I would much rather not have to address the House on this occasion; but as the West India mail is ready to go out to-morrow night, I think it necessary to remark that this measure, when it goes forth to the colonies, will carry dismay and despair to them, while, at the same time, it will cause regret to the minds of all those who lament to see the progress which the slave trade has made within the last two years. No measure like that proposed by the noble Lord opposite will be of any avail whatever in averting the ruin of the British colonies, and of the sugar plantations in the British possessions in India. What does it amount to? In amounts to this: that as regards the finer qualities of sugar, the position of the sugar planters is to he mended as regards the position in which they stood in the year ending the 5th of July, 1848, to the extent of 1s. a hundred-weight; and, as regards the second quality of sugar, their position is only to be improved by 6d. a hundred-weight. Sir, when the colonies have been struck down under the 6s. protection duty, can any one say that a protecting duty of 7s. on the better qualities of sugar, and of 5s. 6d. on the second quality of sugar, is to resuscitate them, or even to prevent them from further sinking? Why, as far as such protection goes, it is madness to expect that it can be of any avail in saving the British planters from the ruin that has fallen upon them. I come next to the question of relief which is to be extended to them in the shape of a loan to the extent of 500,000l., in addition to the 170,000l. that has been already advanced in aid of immigration. But what is the use of lending money to a man to go on with a losing trade? The trade has been already ruined. It was ruined under the 6s. protection; and can it be rendered other than a ruinous trade while it continues in no better position than that under which those engaged in it have succumbed to the foreigner? I look, then, on this measure as being perfectly futile. As I said before, I regard the proposition of the noble Lord as calculated to carry dismay and despair to the British colonies; and the reason that I rose is to give heart to the colonists, and if the mail is to carry out the debate to-morrow night, I would say, let the British colonies read and notice the coldness with which the speech of the noble Lord has been received, and let them contrast that with the enthusiastic cheers with 769 which the sentiments of my hon. Friend the Member for the University of Oxford was received; and they would then learn to know that the edict of the British Minister is not the edict of the British people, or the edict of the British Legislature, and I can tell them also that it is not the proposal that will be carried out by this House. As I understood the announcement of the noble Lord, and the comments that have been made in the different speeches that have been delivered in a contrary sense, I argue that the verdict of this House, on Monday next, will be that the British colonies shall not be allowed to perish.
As to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I hope he will pardon me for saying, that after having heard it, I believe he mistook his trade, and that he should have been a special pleader at the bar. When he took up my right hon. Friend the Member for Stamford (Mr. Herries), on the ground that the Act of 1844 allowed slave-grown sugar to come into competition on the same terms as foreign free-grown sugar, I think that it was very like special pleading. The right hon. Gentleman surely must know that we could not prohibit the sugar of the United States, and of Venezuela, from entering this country on account of the obligations of special treaties; but as a proof of the pitiful extent to which this right was taken advantage of, I may state, that in 1845 there were 3,867 tons of foreign sugar consumed in this country. But how much of this was slave-grown sugar? Why, just three tons and a half. True it is, that in the course of time the argument of the right hon. Gentleman might have become applicable—it might be that the United States of America, availing themselves of their special treaties with this country, might have sent their slave-grown sugar here, and might have taken the sugar of Cuba and the Brazils for their own consumption. So also might Holland have taken the sugar of Brazil, and of the foreign West Indian possessions, and have sent her Java sugar here; but as yet that trick had not been had recourse to; and when it was resorted to, it would have been time enough for this House, and for the Parliament of England, to reconsider their policy and see if they could not meet such an unfair proceeding as it deserved. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol (Mr. Philip Miles) re- 770 ferred to a despatch that had been within the last few days printed by order of this House, and that had been only laid before this House on the 9th of June. It is a despatch from Sir Charles Grey, the Governor of Jamaica; and my hon. Friend complained of the length of time that was allowed to elapse before that important document was placed in the hands of Members. But I have a graver charge to make—a charge against the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for the Colonies. I tell the House that that despatch was received on the 27th of March; and I now ask, why was it held back from the Committee till their sittings were brought to an end? The hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for the Colonies came before that Committee as a voluntary witness, and he then pretended to know nothing of any important despatch having been received from the colony of Jamaica, and yet this despatch had at that time been nine days at the Colonial Office.
Sir, it is a repetition of the trick played in the earlier part of the Session. The same thing was done in February in both Houses of Parliament, when on the Motion for a Committee in this House, and on that of bringing forward the whole question for consideration in the other branch of the Legislature, documents which had been a month in the hands of Government were held back until four hours after the debate was over in the House of Commons. The holding back of those despatches may have prevented and shortened debate and discussion at the moment, but I do not pretend to say that it had any material effect in this House, because the Motion for a Committee of Inquiry was acceded to in this House. But how different is the case as regards the withholding of a despatch of this importance from the Committee? And I ask, does the House not believe—does the country not believe, that if a despatch received from Governor Sir Charles Grey had been laid before the Committee, containing the opinions found in this despatch, recommending the very remedy finally carried by a narrow majority in the Committee, that such a despatch would not have had its weight in deciding the then trembling and doubtful result to which the Committee ultimately came? I must take the liberty of again reading the important passage in this despatch. Sir Charles Grey writing on the 21st of February, 1848, says—A permanent gazette price of less than 30s. the 771 cwt. for West India muscovado, I firmly believe will cause the greater portion of the sugar cultivation of this island to be abandoned; and if I were to be called upon for a recommendation founded upon the most comprehensive and painstaking review of the whole subject which I am capable of making, it would be, that as far as still more important State affairs will permit, the duties on British muscovado should be brought towards the limit of 1d. per pound, and those on foreign to 2d., liable to special relaxations in favour of such foreign States as should bind themselves by treaty to give a similar measure of justice to their labourers as we give to ours.Why, Sir, in substance that was the remedy which I myself had first the honour to propose in the Committee. It was the remedy which, in a different shape, my hon. Friend the Member for Droitwich (Sir John Pakington) proposed; and which, in a still more reduced form, the hon. Baronet the Member for Liverpool (Sir Thomas Birch) succeeded in carrying. But think you not that if the evidence of the Governor of Jamaica had been laid before the Committee—whilst the decision of the Committee was trembling in the balance—that that decision would have been influenced by such a high recommendation? Do you not think the Committee would have decided by a large majority in favour of that recommendation? Now, what was the evidence of the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for the Colonies before the Committee on the 5th of April, this despatch of Sir Charles Grey having been received in the Colonial Office on the 27th of March preceding? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Goulburn), asks the witness to explain the reason why we have no accounts in the papers laid before Parliament from Jamaica of the character of those from the other colonies? The answer appears to be—"I imagine you allude to the blue book, containing the general accounts from Jamaica; but those are despatches of a very general character." But that was not the question put to the hon. Gentleman by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge. The question put by Mr. Goulbourn was—"Can you explain the reasons why we have no accounts in the papers laid before Parliament from Jamaica of the character of those from the other colonies?" Well, Mr. Goulbourn follows up that question. He asks "Is there no account of the state of that island?" and he was then going on with his examination, but the examiner is cut short by the witness, who, not allowing 772 the questioner to finish the sentence, interrupts him, saying, "That is generally comprised in the annual report called the blue book." But Mr. Goulburn, not satisfied, persists and asks, "Does not the Governor write despatches on the subject of the state of the island besides that one particular paper in the course of the year?" The answer of Mr. Hawes is, "Yes, certainly; but I am not aware of any despatch from him of any importance which has been withheld from this Committee." Why, I ask, was that despatch not of "any importance?" [Mr. HAWES: It is in the blue book, and it was not received at that time.] Yes, I say it was received, but was never laid before the Committee. [Mr. HAWES: Is it in the book?] Yes; it is in the book laid before Parliament on the 9th of June. [Mr. HAWES: Will the noble Lord state when he moved for it? let him look at the book in his hand.] The hon. Gentleman is trying to fence with me. He asks when I moved for it; I think I moved for it on the 8th of May, but what has that to do with the matter? When the hon. Gentleman was a witness before the Committee, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge asks another question:—We have received, he says, from other colonies very considerable details as to the state of those colonies, and the prospects of the agriculturists; but from Jamaica I can find nothing.What says the hon. Gentleman in reply? He says—Until very recently I think there has been no such general despatch received; a despatch is now printing for this Committee, and I ought to add, that the Governor has been in the island a very short time.He says there is a despatch, but still not of the nature to which the right hon. Gentleman alludes, and adds—"However, what we have will be furnished." That was on the 5th of April; but we continued sitting, and came to no vote whatever until the 22nd of May, eight weeks after the arrival of that despatch. Was Lord Palmerston so long in producing his despatches? No; they were submitted to us before we came to any conclusion, though they were of considerable length, and were received, not on the 27th of March, but so late as the 10th of May; that is, despatches were included down to the 10th of May; is not the reason clear why that despatch from Sir Charles Grey was kept; back? It was on account of its very importance, and that is the grave charge I 773 make against the hon. Gentleman. But it is all in perfect keeping with what was done in the earlier part of the Session. I took the liberty of examining the hon. Gentleman about those despatches that were withheld until February. Those despatches had arrived on the 3rd of January, but were not laid on the table of the House until the 4th of February. Well, Sir, what does the hon. Gentleman say in reference to them? My question was—I wish to ask you how it has come about that those despatches, which were moved for on the 26th of November, were not laid on the table of the House of Commons until, I think, the 7th of February?He says, in reply—All I have to say on the subject is this, that the despatches which were moved for were prepared for Parliament, and were ready to be laid on the table; but just before the meeting of Parliament fresh despatches of very great importance came to us. An effort was made to print them in time to deliver them with the others, but a delay arose over which we had no control, and that was the only cause of their being delivered a day but one after Parliament met.But those despatches are marked Paper 62, and the latest despatch that arrived was on the 3rd of January, an entire month before the meeting of Parliament. And Earl Grey, in the other House, and the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in this House, held language and made statements which it was utterly impossible that either of them could have held or could have ventured to make if the House had been in possession of the despatches. Altogether, their statements were presented the day after the debate was over.
Well, then, I say that the sugar-planting interest has not had fair play in this transaction, and that it has not been intended that it should have fair play. When the Committee was appointed, and when there were put upon that Committee, consisting of fifteen Members, but three Members who had voted against the Sugar Act of 1846, no question could be raised as to the fairness and impartiality of that Committee; and when the noble Lord at the head of the Government—who I believe intended we should have fair play—and so I must also say of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, and of all the Members of the Committee—for never men sat together who were, I believe, more determined to elicit truth, and more resolved to throw no obstacle in the way of fair inquiry in that Committee, whatever might be their 774 opinions on the subject—but I say I don't think when the noble Lord at the head of the Government requested that the terms of the Motion should be amended, and that the Motion, which originally stood merely for a "Committee of Inquiry into the condition and prospects of the sugar and coffee plantation interest in Her Majesty's East and West India possessions and the Mauritius, with a view to their relief," should have this addition, which at the request of the noble Lord was made—"to consider whether any and what measures could be adopted by Parliament for their relief"—the report of the Committee should have received the little attention which from the measures proposed to-night it appears to have gained from Her Majesty's Ministers. I think, after that long investigation, and when the Committee reported a resolution not propounded by the chairman, or by any Protectionist Member of the Committee—but a resolution proposed by as warm a friend of the Government and as warm a free-trader as any one in this House, Sir Thomas Birch—the report of that Committee should have been entitled to more attention. And I repeat again, that my conviction is, that instead of the narrow majority by which that resolution was carried, if that despatch of Sir Charles Grey had not been withheld at the critical moment for fifty-six days, the report of the Committee would have come out backed by the influence of a very considerable majority. It was to this point, as to the requisite amount of differential duty necessary to save the colonies, that for three months, I may say morning, evening, and night, we gave our study; and, fortified by such evidence as that of the Governor of Jamaica, without any concert, of course, with us, and himself a free-trader, I cannot doubt that the majority in that Committee would have been much greater, and would have had proportionably greater influence in the country; therefore, I have a right to prefer a grave charge against the Colonial Office for keeping back that important despatch. I shall not go at any length into this discussion this evening, as there is to be no result; but I would advise the noble Lord at the head of the Government not to trifle with these great colonies. I tell him not to peddle or huxter for one shilling or for eighteen pence a cwt., and balance that miserable sum with the loss of thess great colonies. Their inhabitants have been loyal to you in the worst of times. Those colonies 775 have never wavered in their allegiance and loyalty; but their patience may have its limits; and I beg leave to say to the noble Lord, in the language of Burke, "that magnanimity in politics is not seldom the truest wisdom, and a great empire and little minds go ill together."
§ MR. HAWES
said, he felt called upon to address a few observations to the House in consequence of the attack which had been made upon him. He begged leave to state that no despatch of any importance had been withheld from the knowledge of the Committee. If any delay had taken place in the production of the document which had been referred to, he would make an inquiry into the matter, and would acquaint the noble Lord with the result. The questions put to him by the right hon. Member for the University of Cambridge had reference solely to what was technically called the blue book; so, at least, he understood. That blue book he had not received to the present hour, and therefore he could not produce it before the Committee. As soon as the noble Lord moved for the despatches, they were put into the copyist's hands for the purpose of being printed; and, as far as he knew, no delay took place in laying them before the Committee. With respect to what the noble Lord said about the previous papers, there must, he apprehended, be some mistake. It was a question of dates, and he could not be expected to speak off-hand to it. He begged to state distinctly in his place in Parliament that he had no intention whatever to withhold information from the Committee; and further he believed that such a flood of information was never poured into a Committee on any previous occasion. Upon his honour he declared that he had no intention to withhold information from the Committee, and he was compelled to meet with some degree of indignation the unjust imputation which the noble Lord had thrown upon him. He would make inquiry into the matter, and take another opportunity of meeting the noble Lord on the subject; but again he must declare that he had no intention of keeping back information, in order to influence the decision of the Committee.
§ MR. DISRAELI
Does the hon. Member mean to say that the despatch of Sir C. Grey was presented to the Committee, or that it was not? That is the question.
§ MR. HAWES
No. The noble Lord will pardon me for contradicting him with the greatest possible courtesy; but the despatch was not called for, and my evidence shows that it was not. The noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn subsequently moved for a great many despatches, which were put into the printer's hands, and, as far as I am aware, they were printed as speedily as possible.
§ MR. DISRAELI
I will not dispute the hon. Member's right to speak again upon the subject, though I think he has not bettered his position by his interlocutory observations. The hon. Member being a witness before a Committee, was examined with respect to certain information which was supposed to be in the possession of the Government of which he was the organ; the hon. Member evades the question, and chooses to conceive that it refers to some routine report.
§ MR. DISRAELI
Exactly so. The hon. Member being asked, I say, whether the Government was in possession of certain important information, gave the Committee to understand that it was not.
§ MR. DISRAELI
Yes, but they were of little importance, and therefore they were not produced. Of course you had received despatches. We know very well that no packet arrives without bringing despatches of some kind from your colonial Governors, but the inference to be drawn from your answer is that you had received no despatch containing information of any importance. Now, the question is, whether the despatch of Sir C. Grey contains information which is likely to have influenced the decision of the Committee—whether it would not have been an essential and vital element of the decision at which the Committee arrived? I speak only from memory, as the hon. Member does; but I certainly recollect that the right hon. Member for the University of Cambridge asked the hon. Member in this House, whilst the Committee was sitting, whether a despatch from Governor Sir G. Grey had not been received by the Government.
§ MR. HAWES
The right hon. Member for the University of Cambridge is present, and I hope that he will put the hon. Member right upon this point. It is true that the right hon. Gentleman addressed several questions to me from to time, but they 777 had reference to what is technically called the blue book, which contains a minute description of the state of the colonies, and my answer was that the blue book was not in our possession.
§ MR. GOULBURN
The hon. Member must have completely misunderstood the tenor of my questions. My object was to ascertain whether any information had been received from Governor Grey which could throw any light on the distressed state of the colony; and after the answers which I received from the hon. Gentleman, I must confess I was greatly surprised the other day at seeing in the papers presented to the House the important despatch of Sir C. Grey, recommending a plan for the relief of the planters.
§ MR. DISRAELI
I was speaking from memory; but the hon. Member thought proper to appeal to the right hon. Member for the University of Cambridge, whose answer has completely confirmed the accuracy of my recollection. If this had been the hon. Member's first Session in the House, what he has just done would not have much surprised me; but for a man of ability and considerable Parliamentary experience to wish the House to believe that a practised statesman, and a gentleman of great official aptitude like the right hon. Member for Cambridge University, would be perpetually asking him questions about a mere routine blue book, does, I confess, fill me with admiration. Could the hon. Member suppose that the right hon. Gentleman was so green a man as to ask about a blue book? I well remember that the right hon. Gentleman was always on the watch for the hon. Member about this matter like a hungry privateer on the lookout after a Spanish galleon. The countenance of the hon. Member, too, upon those occasions always betrayed considerable anxiety; and I cannot help thinking that if he had understood the right hon. Gentle-men's questions to refer merely to a blue book, he would have been much more at his ease than he seemed to be. But the question is, whether the statement of the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn is just or not? Was there a most important document withheld from the knowledge of the Committee, which, if produced, would have effected a considerable change in the opinion of the Committee? That is the question, and all that has been said on the subject within the last few minutes entirely confirms the statement of the noble Lord. Doubtless that is not the opinion 778 of the hon. Under Secretary for the Colonies; and I can easily conceive that after the answer of the right hon. Member for Cambridge University, the hon. Member is more enamoured of his opinion than ever; but I will leave him and the right hon. Gentleman to settle the matter between them. I have no wish to prolong this discussion, which was not to have been a discussion. And yet, after the speech of the noble Lord at the head of the Government, I think that, as the packet sails to-morrow the proceedings of this night are, as far as the destinies of the colonies are concerned, more important than what may be done on Monday next. Why should there be any delay? Why should 48 or 24 hours elapse before we come to a decision upon the proposition of the Government? As far as I can ascertain, there is, with the exception of persons immediately connected with the Government, but one opinion entertained respecting it, namely, that it is at once the most paltry and most perilous scheme ever offered to the consideration of Parliament. It is paltry because it can do no good—perilous because it must do much harm. The Government might have adopted the decision of the Committee, which was given on the Motion of one of their own supporters, whose opinions generally on commercial theories they deem to be orthodox. If the Government had taken that course it would have been in their power to have effected the salvation of the colonies. It was also open to the Government to have given an honourable, and it may be a just, adhesion to the law of 1846. They have done neither. They have "paltered in a double sense"—on the one hand flirting with political economy, and on the other conquetting with protection. If the object of the Government were to conciliate both parties, they will certainly fail of success. I will leave Ministers to settle their differences with economists; but as the West India packet is to sail to-morrow, I think it desirable that it should carry the intelligence to the colonists, that this project of the Government has not been received by the House with the apathy which Ministers counted on; and that not only by Members on this side of the House, but also by the economists, faithful to the principles they profess, is it denounced as totally inadequate to meet the exigency of the case. In every sense, whether we look to the condition of the colonies or of this country, the proposition of the Government is devoid 779 of all statesmanlike qualities. What is the question between the English people and the colonies? The English people, represented by the Parliament and the Government, entered into a contract with the sugar-growing colonies in 1834, by which we engaged, first, to give them a sum of money; secondly, to secure them the use of their labourers for a certain term of years; thirdly, to secure them during a certain time the immigration of new labourers; fourthly, to secure to them for a period the enjoyment of a market. Of these four conditions, England has violated and outraged three. The violation of the fourth stipulation by the law of 1846, is the proceeding which has been most fatal to the colonists. The noble Lord at the head of the Government has told us that he still adheres to the principle of the law of 1846. I want to know what the principle of the law of 1846 is? The noble Lord has not told us. It is said that the Act of 1846 is a law to secure cheap sugar to the people of England. There is a great complaint of taxation at present amongst the people. Why not apply a sponge to the national debt, and thus reduce taxation? By the same process of reasoning, and in accordance with the same high tone of morality, you might arrive at a fiscal result just as successful as the colonial catastrophe which you have accomplished. This being the state of the case—we having violated three out of four of the engagements into which we entered with the colonists—the noble Lord submits his plan to the House, then deprecates discussion, tells us that the packet is about to sail, and supposes that his proposition is to pass without eliciting any expression of indignation, unless it be that drawn from an Under Secretary for the Colonies, who feels himself excessively offended because he is called to account for not having produced a despatch which he ought to have produced. That is the only spark of feeling which has been elicited to-night. Not the least feeling is manifested with reference to a question which involves nothing less than the existence of the colonists and the outraged honour of the English people; but immense indignation is shown because a Member of Parliament calls the Under Secretary for the Colonies to account for not having produced a despatch. I want the question to be answered—why has not England fulfilled her contract with the West Indians? It is all very well for the hon. Member for 780 Manchester to get up and speak of the advantage to his suffering constituents of cheap sugar. No doubt the hon. Member's constituents are suffering, as the colonists are suffering, and both from the same cause—vicious legislation. We told the hon. Member long ago that this would be the result of the course he was pursuing. The hon. Member and his friends have virtually had the government of the country in their hands during the last two or three years; they have been passing laws affecting the most important commercial interests—laws for regulating the administration of the colonies; and the result is, that they have produced in every quarter an amount of distress and depression never before equalled. When the colonists complain that they are ruined by your violation of the contracts into which you entered with them, is it an answer to say that you cannot fulfil your engagements because the hon. Member for Manchester's constituents are suffering? Doubtless both parties are suffering; but the country did not enter into engagements with the people of Manchester, and that made the difference between the two cases. Between England and her colonies a distinct contract is registered. Between the Parliament and Manchester there is no other bond than some fantastical legislation for which the hon. Member is himself responsible. There is one consideration which must never be omitted in dealing with this question. I do not believe that the West Indies will perish. When I see that their system has endured for some centuries—that a considerable degree of order and civilisation has been achieved—that much land has been brought into cultivation, notwithstanding your political economy and your perfidy—when I see this, I find it impossible to suppose that these islands will become absolutely barren and desolate. But what is the prospect? These colonies must be supported by metropolitan authority; they must depend upon some Power which will enable them to enjoy the rights of property, and to develop the sources of wealth which they possess, instead of allowing them to perish from the face of the earth. If we cannot do this for them, they will seek for a transatlantic Power that will do it. I ask you to consider what effect that would have on the empire of Great Britain. That is a political consideration which may not have entered into the minds of those who are looking only for cheap sugar; but it shows that the world is not to be governed 781 merely by commercial principles, and that if you push too far your political economy, an element may arise to produce combinations which will destroy your power, and with it the commercial supremacy which it was your object to establish. What are you doing all this time? Are you securing cheap sugar, which, with unblushing front, you told the people was your chief object? I remember, when the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn, opposed the pernicious law of 1846, I ventured to say that before two years the Government would have to change it. I said then the history of the country was the history of reaction; and the noble Lord at the head of the Government got up, and, in a speech full of Habeas Corpus and the Bill of Rights, ridiculed this principle. Why, two years have not passed, and we have the noble Lord introducing a measure of reaction at this moment. We have him cobbling and patching up his famous law, which he carried in deference to a great principle. We have him deserting that great principle, without instituting in its place any other principle of power sufficient to make his legislation effective. What has been the effect of your legislation? Why, it has been this, as I told the noble Lord over and over again it would be, that you who are anti-monopolists—you who are the advocates of cheap sugar—have all along been establishing a differential duty in favour of Cuba and Brazil. Yes, it is the hon. Member for Manchester, who, speaking as if the greatness of this country depended upon the measure of 1846, and as if cheap sugar was the only consolation left to the people of England for all the legislative blunders that had been committed—it is he who virtually tells you that cheap sugar is now the sole solace for the sufferings of the people of this island. It is the hon. Member for Manchester, and his friends, who are the advocates of a differential duty in favour of Cuba and Brazil; who give an absolute and direct advantage, by legislation, to Cuba and Brazil; who make the Ministers (and who became Ministers by their dictation) sketch out a new scale of duties, by which to add to and favour the differential duties that already practically exist; it is, I say, the hon. Member for Manchester and his friends who are at this moment doing all this, and much more than this—for they will eventually establish a monopoly in favour of those two countries. The hon. Baronet the Member for the University of Oxford 782 has with the most becoming feeling touched upon the moral blot of this case. Sir, in that regard, it is intolerable. If we could throw from our memories all that has passed in this country; if there were no House of Commons, if there were no Parliament, if, unfortunately, there were no reporters—then, indeed, we might get out of the scrape in which we are now involved. But we have had for forty years public meetings, for forty years platform orators, and for forty years Ministers of State advocating the abolition of slavery. These are traditions that cannot be forgotten by the people—never can they be forgotten by those who took so distinguished a part in the cause of emancipation—the Society of Friends. Talk to me, indeed, about the history of this country not being the history of reaction! When I see the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Bright) become the eloquent advocate of the importation of slave-grown sugar—when I see that hon. Member get up and tell us that the people of England are to look to the market which can supply them with the cheapest article, and are not to consider the means by which that article has been manufactured, or the circumstances under which it has been created—then I say, that is reaction under the most remarkable and flagrant circumstances. But is it the fact that this intelligence is to go forth to the colonists to-morrow, and are those our suffering fellow-subjects to suppose that England is so debased, so degraded, so demoralised, that it can submit to such legislation and to such legislators without a struggle? I cannot believe it. Let not this measure—this remedial measure of the Minister—be allowed to pass with ease and sub silentio. Let us show this case in all its hideous features to the people of this country. They may be suffering; I don't deny it. You have been doing all you could for the last five years to make them suffer. The colonists are suffering also, perhaps more severely than the people of England; and, though I more immediately advocate the interests of the colonists on this question, yet I am not insensible to the sufferings of our fellow-subjects in this country; but I repeat it, there is this difference between the position of the colonists and the working people of Yorkshire and Lancashire, that you have entered into a specific contract with the colonists, but you have not done so with the people of Yorkshire or Lancashire. Let, then, the colonist know that there are still 783 some persons in the House of Commons who are not blind to the grossness of our legislative conduct in this matter; and let the people out of this House have time to think and pause upon these strange circumstances. They have been told for the last four years that they were upon the eve of a period of unparalleled prosperity—every loom and every spindle was to be in full activity, and every church and every chapel was to be full. Have these visions of prophecy been fulfilled? No; but then some very extraordinary circumstances have occurred. Yes, everything is accounted for. Extraordinary circumstances have arrived that have prevented that prosperity which was foretold and promised both for England and the colonies. Why, that, Sir, was the whole point of our argument. We always told you, that you were dealing only with abstract theories, and that when you brought your principles into play you would have to encounter numerous obstacles which you did not anticipate, and to struggle with difficulties which you did not foresee. But you persevered and passed your laws, without even making an attempt to adapt them to a single case of exception. But you say, there are extraordinary circumstances occurring in the world. There is war. But you said, there never would be war. You said, "Pass our laws, give us free trade, of which the measure of 1846 was the completing act, and there never will be any disturbing circumstances more; we shall always enjoy peace; our principles are so powerful that they will overcome all obstacles." And when we just intimated the possible occurrence of circumstances that might lead to war, you told us that war would never occur. But now you have war, discontent, and disorder. There exists, also, according to your own confession, unparalleled suffering on the part of the people of England; and the state of the colonies by your legislation is so intolerable that the Government themselves—they who introduced the Bill of 1846—have within the space of a short two years been obliged to bring forward a remedial measure. Is it possible to conceive an occurrence of a public nature more full of instruction, or one calculated to produce a greater impression on the public mind, than this proposition of the Minister? I have not the slightest doubt as to the effect which it will have, as far as the people of England are concerned;—I have not the least 784 doubt that when they who, according to the hon. Member for Manchester and his friends, are the most sensible, the most energetic, and the most calm-minded persons in the world, hear of this proposition, they will begin to consider what they are to think of this new commercial system, which was consummated in 1846, and which in 1848 has completely broken down. I have not the slightest doubt that these things will produce the greatest effect on the people of England; especially when those other circumstances occur to which the hon. Member for Manchester so delightedly alluded—when we have a free-trade price of corn, and when we have all that agricultural distress which the hon. Member described with so much unction, and over the anticipation of which he gloated with so much feeling; when we have that agricultural distress and those free-trade prices—when we have, consentaneous with commercial depression and colonial ruin, a total want of business throughout the country—(for all this is the necessary consequence of that state of war which the hon. Member said never could occur)—I have no doubt that then, under such circumstances, the people of this country will awake at last to a conviction of the blunders they have tolerated, and to a full sense of the false system of which they have been the fond supporters. But, after all, the people of this country have great resources; they have powerful political friends, who by their talents and eloquence are able to sustain their cause; they have the wisdom of Parliament to solace them; but what is the state of the colonists? You have been tampering with them and with their interests for the last forty years. You have been passing law after law to break their spirit and destroy their capital. They have nothing to fall back upon—and even when the packet is waiting to carry out to them intelligence from this country, a proposition under these circumstances is brought forward by the Government, which we are told we must not discuss, and that it is not expected that we should now give an opinion upon it. I shall be ready hereafter to give my opinion upon it most unquestionably; and, although I do not suppose it will carry much weight, yet, as far as my voice and the influence of my opinion extends, I wish my fellow-subjects in the colonies to have at least the consolation of knowing that I delivered my protest as indignant as ever did an Under Secretary of State against a measure, brought forward, 785 I believe, under circumstances unprecedented in this country, with regard to colonial legislation, miserably feeble in its conception, and leading, as I believe it will lead, to dreadful disappointment and unparalleled failure.
§ LORD J. RUSSELL
In stating to the House the proposition which I made this evening, I ventured to ask the House to follow the course usual in cases of this nature—that of waiting to another day, and that only after two days' interval—before they gave an opinion upon the subject; but hon. Gentlemen have not adopted that course. My hon. Friend the Member for the University of Oxford, and the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down—each has made his comment with regard to the principle, and also with regard to the general purport and effect of the measure. Now, I must first take notice of what has been said by the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, because I think he has shown pretty clearly what is the nature of the debate, and of the decision to which this House is to come on Monday. He says, that the reaction which he prophesied in 1846 has come to pass; and he explained that reaction by saying that the new commercial principles received their completion in 1846, and now, in 1848, we were to witness their entire overthrow. He foresaw and predicted that the corn laws would be re-enacted—that new duties would be imposed—and that all those commercial principles which have received the sanction of this House during the last seven years are to be overthrown by the decision of Parliament in this and future Sessions. Now, I think the House may see from this what are the expectations of the hon. Gentleman, and with what views he will receive the proposition made by the Committee of which the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn was chairman. I had not a clear understanding, until I heard the speeches of the hon. Gentleman who spoke last, and of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stamford (Mr. Herries), what their object precisely was. I had supposed that they meant that there was to be a 10s. differential duty for a period of six years, and then that that duty was to expire, and the duty on colonial and foreign sugar should be equal. That was a proposition to which I should have objected on account of the burden which it would have imposed on the consumer; but at the same time it would not have been very different in principle from the measure of 1846 itself. It would 786 have been coming to an equalisation duty in the end. But the right hon. Gentleman has explained that his object is to restore protection altogether; to make the introduction of any foreign sugar subject to such a differential duty as to render it difficult for the people of this country to consume it; and finally, to give to the colonies a permanent protection to a certain amount. That is the way, we are told, and the only way, by which the prosperity of the colonies can be secured. I am not sorry to have learned this, because it shows what will be the measure we shall have to discuss, and what will be the proposition the House will have to decide upon, namely, the proposition of the Government on the one hand, having in view the maintaining of the Act of 1846, and the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman on the other side, which is, that there should be a permanent differential duty of 10s. per cwt., thereby laying a very considerable tax upon the people of this country. My hon. Friend the Member for the University of Oxford expressed his great indignation that I had not touched upon the question of slavery. Why, I really thought that the whole of my speech was an attempt to show that the measure would enable the British colonists, with their free labour, to compete with the sugar of slave colonies belonging to other countries. If I did that—and if I proposed a measure which would be successful in attaining that object—I thought I should so far be giving encouragement to the growth of free-labour sugar, and discouragement to the growth of slave-labour sugar. With respect to the question whether the measure was sufficient for that object, that is another matter altogether; but the object I had in view was, I repeat, to encourage free-labour sugar, and discourage slave-labour sugar. No person, I think, could doubt this who heard me. In point of fact, the very proposal, as I at first understood it, that was made by the right hon. Gentleman—viz., the imposition of a differential duty of 10s. for six years, would have a similar object in view to that proposed by myself. It would have the object of enabling the British colonists, with a sufficiency of free labour, to supply sugar cheaply, and thereby compete with advantage and success against the slave colonies. But I must confess—and after all I have heard, I almost feel humbled in confessing it—that I thought there were two parties whose interest I was to keep in 787 view in framing any measure on this subject—the one party was the great mass of the population in our colonies, amounting to 9–10ths of the people of those colonies, who for the greater part had formerly been our negro slaves; and the other body of persons whose interests I conceived I was to consult, and who were about some 99–100ths of the population, were the people of this country, who were deeply interested in the price of the article of sugar, for which they pay 12,000,000l. sterling a year, and of which they consume about 300,000 tons, or 6,000,000 cwt. annually. Now, though the question was difficult, and though I did not pretend to frame a measure which would press with any extreme force either on the one hand or the other, yet I conceived that, with regard to those two great bodies, I had not been unsuccessful. It appears by evidence that the negroes of the West India colonies since the abolition of slavery have been in the best condition. They have had the best food, and been in all respects better clothed and provided for than any peasantry in the world. There was a resolution passed by a Committee in 1842 declaring that the measure of emancipation had completely succeeded so far as the welfare of the negroes was concerned. I believe the noble Lord the Member for Lynn moved a similar resolution on a subsequent occasion. We have it in evidence that the negroes were able to indulge in the luxury of dress, which they carried to an almost ridiculous excess. Some were known to have dress worth 50l. I mention this to show their ability to afford these indulgences. Now, I believe that even if this measure were to discourage the cultivation of sugar—if a great part of the negroes were not again employed in the growth of sugar, still there are means enough in the West Indies for their support, and the effect of emancipation would be, that from being wretches doomed to work compulsorily under the lash of their masters, it has converted them into an independent, a happy, and comfortable peasantry. In that respect, therefore, there is nothing in my measure which militated against their welfare. With regard to another part—that of proposing that sugar which was now paying 14s. a cwt. should be diminished to 10s., and that foreign free-labour sugar should be diminished to 10s., which tax scarcely exceeds one penny a pound—I did conceive that we were providing for the welfare and benefit of that other great body whose interest we were bound to 788 consult—I mean the people of this country. But it appears from the course which this debate has taken that the welfare of 9–10ths of the people of the West Indies is not the matter we are to regard; and that the welfare of 99–100ths of the people of the United Kingdom is not a matter we are to take the least interest in; but that the proprietors and owners of West Indian property—those who inherit estates in the colonies, or those who have purchased them, and in many cases only some five or six years ago—that these are the only persons for whose welfare this House is to show any concern. Now, I confess myself somewhat comforted by that discovery; for I must have been either very greatly wrong in proposing as the object of legislation the welfare of the two great masses of the community, or else those who have hitherto taken a part in this debate are exceedingly mistaken in their view as to what is the duty of this House in relation to the millions whose welfare is entrusted to their care. But, Sir, there is one great authority upon this subject I was very much surprised to find arrayed in such hostility against the present measure. The proposal of the Committee was 10s. for six years. Many persons stated their wishes to me, that the 10s. duty should be for a much longer period. Now I have consulted the evidence of Mr. Barkly, and I find that he thought that any long period would lead to the most calamitous consequences. He was of opinion that it would tend very much to injure both the labourers and employers. He said, that if protection of 10s. was given for two years, it would be very useful in reviving industry; but that if that duty were continued it would have the worst effects. [Mr. BARKLY: Will you have the kindness to state what I said? I spoke of 10s. a cwt. for ten years.] Yes, the hon. Gentleman says that if there were a protection of 10s. a cwt., to continue for something like ten years, several of his friends think that would be useful; but he says—"I do not think that it would put us in a better position at the end of that time than we are in now;" and I know in one place he states positively that he thinks that 10s. ought not to be continued for more than two years. "I see," he says, "if the period were only two years, the competition for labour would be less intense than if it were ten." But here come two answers very remarkable, both as to the actual fact and 789 as to what Mr. Barkly anticipates. The question is put—The effect of giving 10s. protection would be to give you a better price for your sugar?The answer is—It would raise the price of sugar 4s. a cwt. in this market.That is a very clear answer as to the positive effect of giving the additional duty. He does not say that it would be compensated by such an increase in our colonies that the price would in fact be lower; he admits very fairly that the price of sugar would be increased 4s. a cwt.; and, of course, the effect of giving that protection is just the effect of having a tax of 4s. a cwt., only that in the one instance it goes to the proprietor, and in the other it is paid into the Exchequer; for the consumer the effect is exactly the same. The next question is—The effect of giving you a better price for your sugar, you think, would be that the labourers in the colonies would demand an increase of wages up to that point?His answer is—Not only would they demand it, but the planters themselves would be disposed to give it; the planters are not free agents exactly, they are men with encumbrances, which they have to provide the means of diminishing if they can, therefore their great object is to make sugar at any cost; and that has been one of the great causes of the high wages. If all the proprietors had been on the spot, wages would not have been so high. But if the protection were to continue for a very limited period, I do not think that would have the effect of impeding a reduction of wages.The hon. Gentleman clearly was of opinion that 10s. for ten years would very much increase the wages, and so the proprietors would not in effect gain; and the reason was, that they are not their own masters, but would be forced to enter into this expensive and, to them, injurious competition. I should have thought, then, when the hon. Gentleman says that 10s. for two years would be good, but for ten years would be very injurious, and when our proposition is a protection for six years, though not to the amount of 10s., that at least he would not have met such a proposition with such unmeasured attack and reproach. But the question which the House will have to decide is, what I have stated with respect to this proposition of 10s. protecting duty. A 10s. protecting duty, as I conceive, while it would be a very serious tax on the people of this country, would lead, as the hon. Gentleman says, to those very high and extravagant wages; and, instead of putting the proprietors 790 into a good position, in the end the whole of what would otherwise be their profit would be consumed by this competition for labour and the very high wages they would give. I believe, therefore, that a 10s. duty, while it would not be a real benefit to the labourer, would be injurious to that very class for whose benefit it is proposed, and who are the only persons that it is thought would profit by this tax. The hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume) has declared likewise against the proposition of the Government; and, as I understand him, he is not content with suspending the scale of protection which at present exists, but he would propose an increase of protection—a higher protection than now exists, for the purpose of saving the colonies. Now, I think, among other objections to such a scheme, that one of those gentlemen to whom I referred in my opening statement has given a conclusive reason against such a proposition, I allude to Mr. Innes, who, I believe, is a Protectionist. He is a gentleman who has formed a very good judgment with respect to the state of opinion in this country, and he says in substance—I should be very sorry to see protection reenacted in this country, because I think the colonists would have no certainty that that law would not be changed in a year or two; there would be a perpetual struggle and perpetual uncertainty—there would be no security for capital—it would be only continuing an effort on the one part to maintain protection, and on the other to overthrow it, which is most injurious.I think that opinion perfectly reasonable; and my belief is, that if this House should unfortunately agree to raise the protection for sugar—to make it 10s. instead of that which we propose—the effect would be a renewed struggle; that there would not be that successful reaction to which the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire looks; but that all those who have been for free trade in corn—all those who have been for a diminution of import duties—would struggle again for a diminution of this duty—would struggle to free the people of the United Kingdom from a tax which would be found so onerous to them. I have heard hon. Gentlemen say to-night, "What is a penny per pound?" The noble Lord (Lord G. Bentinck) says he proposes a reduction of duty. But the Chancellor of the Exchequer, naturally, would not be willing to see any very great loss of revenue; there would be upwards of 900,000l. of revenue sacrificed. If the noble Lord were to have a 10s. duty oh colonial sugar, with a 20s. 791 duty on foreign, he must remember that the people, not having the benefit of the 10s. duty—because with the increased consumption now going on they would have to pay an increased price—the consequence must be a diminution of consumption, and therefore a diminution of revenue. It is all very well to say, as some of the witnesses before this Committee would say, "What a great consumption you have had! The West India colonies—the British possessions—can fully supply that, and you may as well take it from them only." But they entirely forget that this great increase of consumption has been owing to the diminution of price; that it is the diminution of price, and that only, which has caused the great increase of consumption. The increase of consumption has been 80,000 tons in the course of three years; but if you were to say you would re-establish protection, and endeavour to make sugar dear, you would find that increased consumption immediately fall off, and there would be a turn the other way, and a diminution of consumption. It is wonderful how sensitive the market is in this respect, and how a small increase of price makes a considerable diminution of consumption; showing that to the great mass of the people it is a consideration that there is a difference, not of a penny, but a halfpenny or a farthing, in an article, which many of them are not able to afford. I have felt obliged to make these remarks by the length to which this debate has extended. I shall be ready on Monday to defend the plan which we have proposed, as a plan which, giving, as I think, to the West India proprietor greater advantage than he has now, is at the same time not injurious to the revenue. I am perfectly aware that such a plan is liable to be called paltry and peddling, and of no value; but I am convinced that, upon a question of this kind, it would not be wise in us to go either to one extreme or the other. I should think an immediate abolition of the present differential duties as unwise a measure as a great increase of protection. We propose that the differential duties shall altogether cease in six years, and we give in the meantime what I think is a reasonable and moderate advantage to the West Indies. My object is, as I have stated, that the great mass of the people, both in the West Indies and in this country, may have justice done them; that free labour may be able to compete successfully with slave labour; and, believing 792 that it will be so, I shall with confidence on Monday submit these propositions to the House.
Ordered—"That the House on Monday resolve itself into a Committee of the whole House to consider the Act of the 9th and 10th Victoria."