§ Order of the Day read for resuming the Adjourned Debate on the Sugar Duties.
§ MR. G. THOMPSON
observed that this was not a question affecting alone one particular interest—the interests of the West Indian proprietors. It necessarily embraced those great principles of political economy which had been so frequently debated in that House, and which had been recognised as the soundest and safest basis for our future legislation in reference to matters of commerce. Upon our decision also of that question depended the condition—moral, social, and material—of those who 1218 constituted nine-tenths of all the dependencies from which we brought our sugar in the West Indies. If we owed compensation to the West India proprietors, we owed it in a double sense to the slaves, whose emancipation was an admission that a great wrong had been done them; and it must ever be one of the deepest stains upon the character of that House, that whilst so much was done on behalf of the proprietors, nothing was given to those 800,000 victims of the deepest wrong that could be perpetrated by man against man. He contended that there had been no breach of contract. The slaves were paid for at the rate of about 25l. per head; and, more than that, they were left in the islands, where for a time they remained apprentices; and estates had sold at a higher rate after 1833 than before. In 1843 this system of immigration from India commenced. He went on board the first vessel which went out of Calcutta under the Colonial Passengers' Act, and he saw nothing in that vessel which could convey the idea of discomfort, or any intention on the part of those who had charge of the Coolies, of subjecting them to any inconvenience beyond what was inevitable on the voyage; but so many were the abuses before the end of the year, of persons being put on board who were not the real individuals who had been passed by the protector of the Coolies—so many were the abuses that came to the knowledge of the Government of India, not only of malpractices on the spot, but of the treatment of the Coolies on their arrival at the Mauritius, that the Government were obliged in 1843 to suspend the operation of the Colonial Passengers' Act till they could frame a measure to put an end to the deception and cruelties practised on those unfortunate individuals. He need not remind the House that from that period to the present there had been but one opinion in the minds of all who had looked to the system of emigration—that it had been fraught with every kind of abuse, and subjected the Coolies generally to the most dreadful privations in the colonies to which they had been carried. He opposed this system of emigration on the ground that you could not introduce one of these persons without doing irreparable mischief to the cause of moral and social order in those colonies. Let us try this statement by the mortality which had taken place amongst these persons. Up to January, 1847, there had been imported into Jamaica 175,595 persons. What had 1219 been the mortality in the Mauritius? From 1843 to 1847 there had been imported into that colony 68,213, and the deaths amounted to 6,542, or about 1–9th of the whole number imported. What was the proportion of the sexes introduced into that one colony? There were introduced into the Mauritius 55,753 adult men, and 8,350 adult females, making a difference in the sexes of 47,403. There were a series of reports from managers of estates, every one of which spoke of the Coolies as amongst the most unfit persons to be introduced into the colony as agricultural labourers. How were they described? As indolent, mendicants, runaways, vagrants, thieves, vagabonds, filthy, diseased, dissolute, immoral, disgusting, covered with sores. Some were priests, some jugglers, some barbers, some tumblers, some cooks, some grooms, some buffoons, some herdsmen, some pedlars, some scullions, some bakers, tailors, confectioners, instead of agricultural labourers. Many undertook to shave the whole of the labourers, but refused to lift a hoe. The Africans were no better. Richard Hill, of Jamaica, described the Coolies as being the most costly of labourers. Governor Light, of Demerara, said that 13,369 Coolies had to be fed and lodged. It was precisely the same, as to the general features, with those introduced into British Guiana. It would be found wherever this system was scrutinised, whether in India, Africa, or Demerara, that these persons were a deeply demoralised class of human beings. There might be exceptions where there was power to coerce them; they might, under the influence of fear or reward, perform some beneficial amount of labour; but his opinion was that the system of emigration had been false, and to attempt to carry it out extensively, would only be to create a new slave trade under false colours, and of a modified description, so as to injure materially the interests of the colonies, as to their social and moral condition. What had been the conduct of the planters in the West Indies? As late as 1835 the House was inundated with reports of cruelties on the unfortunate apprentices. Government at first turned a deaf ear, but at last they were forced to admit the accuracy of those representations. On the 10th February a noble Lord introduced a series of resolutions in the other House, proposing that there should be stringent laws for the prevention of cruelty to ap- 1220 prentices in the West Indies, and then that apprenticeship should cease and determine on the 1st of the ensuing August. The noble Lord made a powerful and able speech, and narrated from the West Indian newspapers instances of cruelty of a most aggravated kind. He gave an account of the death of no less than eleven persons on the treadmill. The noble Lord the Secretary for the Colonies did not deny the cruelties inflicted on the negro population, and gave instances in which not merely planters but the Colonial Assembly of Jamaica had violated the provisions of the Act for the emancipation of the slaves. There was no one in the other House who ventured to offer a word in refutation of what the noble Lord stated. There sat in that House a nobleman, since deceased, a West Indian proprietor, the Marquess of Sligo, who published a pamphlet giving the result of his own observations in the colony, and fully justifying all the representations that had previously been made by those who had been accused, in this House and elsewhere, of exaggerating the cruelties perpetrated on the negroes. More than that, after publishing his pamphlet anonymously, the noble Lord, in a letter addressed to a particular publication, said, that the object of the publication was to draw attention to the state of the island. He said, "the determination of the planters to defeat the humane provisions of the law, became evident before the completion of the first year of my residence in the colony." Sir Lionel Smith, in October, 1837, said that the island was subject to the reproach that the negroes in some respects were now in a worse condition than they were in slavery; and a gentleman interested in the West Indies, and defending the West Indian interest, had informed the House of what he believed was the universal impression previous to the passing of this Act for the abolition of slavery, that property would have been in the highest degree insecure, to say nothing of the probability of commotion and convulsion. As to the distress which now prevailed, his own conviction was that it did not grow out of the Act of emancipation—it did not grow out of any insubordination or slothfulness on the part of the negro population; still less did it grow out of any measure passed in this House in 1844 or 1846; it grew out of the mismanagement and extravagance combined of those who were interested in West Indian property. It was always so. The 1221 Under Secretary for the Colonies had shown that in 1804 the colonial interests declared themselves in a hopeless and bankrupt condition. Mr. Long, the historian, in 1750, described the planters as in a state of irretrievable distress and ruin. In 1792, 177 estates had been sold for payment of debts, or had been thrown up, and 92 were still in the hands of creditors. They were no better off than in 1807, for they recommended that means should be taken to raise the price of sugar in England. In 1812 they were in a similar condition, and asked for similar relief. In 1813 Mr. Marryatt, a Member of this House, declared in his place, that there were comparatively few estates that had not been sold or given up to creditors. When we heard of the West Indian interest, it was right to inquire who they were, and how many there were. Perhaps the total number of proprietors of estates was not more than 2,000, and there might be some hundred firms in this country whose intimate relations entitled them to be considered as part of the West Indian interests. Was all our sympathy to be bestowed on this portion of our fellow-subjects? He granted that they had every title to the consideration of their claims, and every title to relief, if they could prove that injury had been done to them; and if that relief were consistent with the principles laid down as the basis of commercial freedom, and with the rights, interests, and future prospects of the negro population in the colonies. The hon. Member for the University of Oxford, with a coolness that was painful, cast overboard these meritorious and wronged individuals. The noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn described them as despotic. He said they had changed places with their masters. It was nothing of the kind. He did not regret the change; he could not hear that they were becoming freeholders without rejoicing that they had proved themselves, by industry, economy, and a laudable ambition, worthy of the boon conferred upon them; and the House should guarantee them in the possession of their enjoyments, and in the prospect of future advantages for their children. Hon. Members wanted an importation of a large number of labourers. At whose expense? At the expense of those who were emancipated, for no other purpose than to beat down the wages of these people, and to coerce them into the acceptance of terms of which they would not now accept. In all 1222 the colonies where fair representation had been made to the negro population, and an appeal made to them as rational human beings, they had accepted lower wages, working in some islands for 5d., in others for 9d. a day. He believed that in all other colonies they would be found to be reasonable, if there was a disposition to be reasonable in those who required their labour. He said, then, that the House should be extremely careful how they gave their sanction to immigration, when conducted by private individuals out of their own resources, or how they sanctioned grants of money for the purpose of promoting that object. There was one class of men whose testimony should be received with respect, namely, the missionaries; on this subject they could have no interest to give a partial or exaggerated statement; and he held in his hand a copy of a petition which had been laid on the table of the House, signed by nine missionaries of the island of Jamaica. But then they were told that they could go to some other part of the world in order to obtain free labour. He had conversed with many captains and persons conversant with the coast of Africa, and he could not lay his finger upon any one spot upon the whole of that coast where it could be obtained. They heard much of the Kroomen and of the Fish nation, and that, too, from persons who he was convinced knew very little about the matter—as little as was known of the Coolies when they were first imported. He, however, did not believe that they could get any large number of Kroomen or of the Fish nation. You must, therefore, take the poor miserable wretches in the yard at Sierra Leone, and lift them over the side of the vessel, as was done in the case of the Growler, with the faint hope that you may carry them to the colonies. This West India interest is doomed; it cannot survive; it must die to live again. There is no other redemption for it; it is not in the power of this House to resuscitate it. Take them upon their own showing, and you will see that this is the case. What is the difference which they want to make up? Fifteen and ninepence per cwt. They have not told you how it is to be done. Is it by a ten shilling discriminating duty? Why, that would be leaving five shillings unpaid. But can you in any justice so charge the people of this country? Would the country for one instant consent to pay ten shillings or one shilling per cwt. for this sugar? He believed not. 1223 They were told that they ought to do it for the sake of consistency—that it was a matter of conscience. It may be so with a few men; but it was not generally so, and they had no right to impose it upon the country, which had not as yet spoken out upon the subject. He went the other day to an anti-slavery meeting composed of four thousand persons. He went unattended, save by one hon. Gentleman, maintaining the same opinion as he did. He submitted his views to the meeting, and although they were met for the purpose of protesting against slavery, they entirely agreed with him that there was no justification in taxing the entire community to the extent of some millions per annum for the sake of excluding slave-grown sugar. Let no man tell him it was a case of conscience; it made guilt depend upon a question of time. If it was wrong to consume Brazilian sugar now, it would be no less so in ten years. If it was wrong to consume slave-grown sugar, it was equally wrong to consume slave-grown cotton. If it was wrong to consume slave-grown tobacco, it was equally wrong to consume slave-made rum. He would take the hon. Baronet (Sir J. Pakington) under the walls of the capital of the United States, and he would show him there scenes which he had himself witnessed, as revolting as any ever yet described. They were bound to be consistent; and if hon. Gentlemen came down to that House to recommend the prohibition of slave-grown produce altogether, he should know how to act. When hen. Gentlemen talked of consistency, they should endeavour to be consistent. But hon. Gentlemen never saw slavery until they saw sugar. Their observation was bounded by the circumference of a hogshead. They cannot see slavery in cotton, and your mills may make a continuity of brickwork from Manchester to London, without awakening a thought upon the subject; but touch sugar, and then they come down and try to persuade the House that all the great principles of humanity, justice, and religion, are bound up in the vote which you shall give. He thought it would be unwise to base their legislation upon such partial principles. He honoured the man who objected to slave-grown produce upon principle, lest he should become particeps criminis of the slavedealer. But let them show him, if they could, that the nation at large partook in such a feeling. Their objects were not to be effected by immigration, nor by the establishment of 1224 cruisers and tenders on the court of Africa. They had washed their hands of slavery. But while they had a British Ambassador at the Court of Brazil, and another at Washington—so long as they allowed their citizens a station amongst them of respectability and character, and so long as they had in their own minds a recollection of the recent period in which they first disavowed slavery—it was not for them to turn round and teach that the great doctrines of freedom and justice ought to be maintained by fiscal enactments. With these views, although opposed to slavery, he could not vote with those who called upon him to do so in his character of an abolitionist. The West India interest was in the predicament of a man involved head and ears in debt, who would go to a friend and say, "Lend me 500l." "What good will it do you?" "Oh, I can do this, and I can do that with it—in fact, I can do everything." He gets the 500l., he shakes off a temporary difficulty; but in a few days he is as deeply involved as ever, and the 500l. is lost into the bargain. This was precisely the situation of the West India colonies. Estates can change hands without being abandoned, and estates must change hands. The possession of these estates must go out of the hands of the present owners. Can no one cultivate sugar but those who at present hold estates? He trusted that he should see the day when there would be but very few absentee proprietors. What was formerly the fact? How was it that the West India interest was formerly so strong? Why, the younger members of titled families married rich West Indian heiresses, and dying bequeathed these coffee mountains and sugar plains to their children's children; and the time was when they were so strong in this House that they could make their own terms with the Minister, and they held every Government in thrall. That day was gone by since 1832. If this relief were granted, it would bring no permanent prosperity to the West Indian interest. Their fate was sealed, they could not compete with Cuba. No, they could not compete with Cuba, for it was a question of extent of country, of quality of soil, of cheapness of labour. Energy might do much, personal inspection might do more; but he thought that, under the present system, any money which they gave would only serve to ward off the evil day, and they would again be crowded with petitions of a similar nature to those lying on the table. He deeply regretted 1225 that Her Majesty's Government had made any concession whatever: while he could not vote for any larger measure of relief, neither could he support any departure from the principles laid down in 1846. There might be some recommendation for the scheme, if it was large and comprehensive—if it afforded a beneficial protection; but it did not possess even this recommendation, and to his mind it was without one single advantage. It was a retrograde step upon the part of the Government, without bestowing any considerable amount of benefit on those with whose distress they professed to sympathise. An extraordinary recommendation for the vote they were called upon to give was certainly that statement of the Under Secretary for the Colonies, in which he informed them that if the money was voted, and if it was placed at his disposal, he did not know to which colony to apply it. [Mr. HAWES: The hon. Gentleman misconceived my words.] The noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) stated to the Coffee Committee that he could not point to any part of the coast of Africa where they could obtain labour, without the liability to great abuse in the manner of obtaining it, and without the liability in some sort of reviving the horrors of the slave trade. He could not consent to vote this money, because it was for the avowed object of diminishing the price of labour in the colonies, which he considered a piece of injustice; neither could he support protection, for it would be a gross injustice to the people of these countries. He was in this dilemma: he could neither support the Government nor the Protectionists, and he accordingly rejected both propositions for the reasons which he had stated.
was deeply impressed with the importance of this subject, and was only sorry that it should have become one that engaged the attention of the House almost periodically, he might say perennially. He was almost sick of thinking upon the subject, much more of expressing any opinion upon it. But they had it before them, and were bound to deal with it in a spirit of impartiality, honesty, and sincerity. There were several kinds of adversaries—there was the open adversary, the concealed adversary, and the dubious adversary. He could not class the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down under any other category or description than that of an open, and, he trusted, a sincere, adversary. He had known the hon. Gentle- 1226 man at different periods, and had encountered him at public meetings, and had always found him an undeviating, and, without intending offence, the rancorous adversary of the West Indian interest. He had hoped, that the bitterness of spirit which used to infuse itself into the debates on this question had been buried for ever. He did not expect that the cruelties inflicted during the state of slavery, or during the more mitigated state of apprenticeship, would have been brought forward to influence the feelings and opinions of the House upon this occasion. There were only two propositions before them—that of the Government, and the other which was indistinctly sketched out by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford. The proposition of the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) was to have, for six years, another scale of diminishing protecting duties, accompanied with a promise that sugar imported from the colonies might be refined in bond; and it was also coupled with a promise that the differential duty now existing between British colonial spirits and home-made spirits should be reduced to a uniform discriminating duty of 4d. To this was added, that a loan of 500,000l. should be advanced to the colonies for the purposes of immigration. Before he proceeded to deal with that matter, he thought it necessary to allude to certain doctrines advanced, and certain assertions made, by hon. Gentlemen who had taken part in what might be termed the continuous discussion on this question. He alluded more particularly to the hon. Under Secretary for the Colonies, and the hon. Member for Westbury (Mr. Wilson). The House would remember the argument of his hon. Friend (Mr. Wilson) on a former occasion, when he spoke of the cultivation of beetroot sugar. He would ask his hon. Friend if he did not advance this singular doctrine—that the cultivation of beetroot sugar in the German States, within what was called the circle of the Zollverein League, was going on at an increasing ratio, although attended by considerable disadvantage. But would his hon. Friend deny, that hitherto a very small duty—and he believed, that up to 1834 or 1836 there was no duty at all—was imposed on muscovado sugar manufactured from beetroot, whilst a far higher duty was imposed on colonial sugar in the States of the Zollverein League; and was not that a manifest advantage and sufficient reason to 1227 account for the increased cultivation of beetroot sugar? Again, let him call the attention of his hon. Friend to certain statements he had advanced with respect to the prosperity of Porto Rico. His hon. Friend had spoken of the fine roads of that island; but he could tell his hon. Friend that in April last it was almost impossible to travel upon them except on horseback. Then the hon. Member for Westbury, in contrasting the situation of Cuba with that of the British West Indies, spoke of 800 miles of railway as having been constructed there. He was thunderstruck when he heard that sentence. There might be railways between the Havannah and Matanzas, between the principal shipping ports of the island; but where the magnificent double or broad-gauge lines existed, except in his hon. Friend's imagination, he did not know. He believed it was stated in a pamphlet that was accessible to all, that not more than 140 miles of railway had been constructed there. But to return to Porto Rico. Did not the hon. Member for Westbury know that that island was originally a penal settlement of Old Spain, and that it was within the last twenty years the sugar care had been so much cultivated there? And the reason why it was so much cultivated was, that the Spanish Government did all they could to make it a prosperous sugar-growing island, and had passed a law prohibiting the estate of any debtor who was a planter from being taken in execution for his debts. [A laugh.] Hon. Gentlemen might laugh, but if such a law were introduced here it might not be unacceptable to some. However, as he had been informed, the consequence of that law in Porto Rico was, that often persons who were in debt in the adjoining island of St. Thomas clubbed together and invested all they could in Porto Rico, in the purchase of a sugar estate, in order to make better bargains with their creditors. There were also many free labourers there; but there were not many who would work in the boiling-houses, and the principal part of that labour was performed by the slave population. But, said his hon. Friend the Under Secretary for the Colonies—"the truth must be told. Magna est Veritas et prœvalebit." He did not know what awful mysteries were to be disclosed; but after all came the old echo, which was taken up by his hon. Friend's Coryphæus, the Member for the Tower Hamlets, that, in 1840, the 1228 Assembly of Jamaica in the same manner grumbled, and sent home remonstrances about their distress; but what large interest was there that was not subject to vicissitudes from various causes? The agitation in this country had unsettled the minds of the black peasantry in the different colonies, and had occasioned a vast deal of that distress of which his hon. Friend complained. He thought the taunt of his hon. Friend was not indicative of the candid mind he had believed him to possess. His hon. Friend said, "Was the present distress honestly complained of?" Would his hon. Friend pretend that there was any parallel between the distress of former years, and that which existed now? He spoke of Jamaica as being an island with which he was connected, and more intimately acquainted, than with others; but he thought the taunt of his hon. Friend conveyed a plain and unmistakeable insinuation that the planters and persons connected with property in Jamaica were not honest in their complaints. There was a blue book—[said the hon. Member, slightly kicking a large volume that lay at his feet]—he had never read it—it was too sore and personal a subject for him to wade through it. He had not supported the appointment of the Committee, and was not even now convinced that much good was obtained from it, though he never should retract his opinion of the unwearied assiduity and pure and honourable motives of his noble Friend who presided over it; but if his hon. Friend the Under Secretary for the Colonies would consult the despatch contained in the volume from Sir C. Grey in December, 1847, he would find a detailed return of the estates that had been abandoned in Jamaica since 1832. In that year there were about 640 sugar estates in that island, but 142 had been since abandoned, and the coffee plantations, also abandoned, were most numerous. What ground, then, was there for charging the proprietors with dishonesty? [Mr. HAWES: Their complaints reminded him of the old cry of the wolf.] It was too serious a subject to be dealt with by fables, and he would tell his hon. Friend, though he did not wish to make him the incarnation of the abuse that had been doled out against the unfortunate proprietors, that he had heard him say many things respecting those proprietors, to which he must strongly object. His hon. Friend had said, how could they expect at 4,000 miles' distance to conduct their estates with profit? The same 1229 argument had been repeated usque ad nauseam; but many parties, named in the report of that Committee, who had become proprietors since the Emancipation Act, and who had been constantly resident in Jamaica, devoting their whole time and attention to the personal superintendence of their estates, had declared they could not carry on the cultivation successfully, and would be ruined; and he believed that no man could get a loan of 5,000l. or 3,000l. on the security of any property in Jamaica. His hon. Friend said, "Let us have the truth." Now, what was the truth? He had heard that it had been stated at meetings about the country, and also in debates in that House, that the proprietors were reckless spendthrifts; and encumbered with mortgages; and how could it be expected that such men would rise from their difficulties? But he would tell his hon. Friend that many proprietors within his own knowledge had estates that were not encumbered, and never had been encumbered. His hon. Friend near him had estates which never had been embarrassed; and, although he did not wish to speak of himself, he could say, that he had not at that moment, and never had had one shilling on mortgage of any of his properties in Jamaica. Those properties were in a good situation, and had the advantage of being near the sea shore; but they had been, and continued to be, a losing concern. And let not the House suspect that he was a prejudiced bigot, and averse to the introduction of practical remedies. He knew he was not, for every demand made on him for the better cultivation of his property, by agricultural implements or otherwise, was attended to, and his estates were under the management of a free-trader, as free in heart and principle, and as energetic in action, as the hon. Member for Manchester, or the hon. Member for the West Biding of Yorkshire. The hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets was known to entertain peculiar views on this question, and he probably would not be sorry to see the Antilles altogether abandoned as sugar Colonies, in order that he might realise his favourite project of obtaining our supply of sugar from the East Indies. The hon. Member was quite right, however, in what he had said about the Coolies; they Were the worst description of immigrants that could be imported into the West Indies. The disadvantages arising from different 1230 habits, occasioned by the powerful laws of their religious creed, and of caste, as well as those springing from natural causes, were obstacles of immense importance. Then, as respected African immigrants, he, for one, was not convinced that there was an absolute deficiency of labour in the West Indies. It was well known that Barbadoes was over-populous, and in some parts of Jamaica there was abundance of labour, whilst in other parts it was deficient. What the planters wanted was security for a continuous and regular supply of labour. It was unjust to accuse the planters of a desire to reduce the wages of labour; all they wished—and they were entitled to it—was to obtain a sufficient amount of daily and efficient work for the wages which they were willing to pay. At present, five days a week constituted the utmost extent of labour; and some labourers would work only two, and others three days in the week. The planters, in many instances, wished to encourage taskwork; but it was quite out of the question to secure the proper performance of such taskwork generally. The planters asked not for favour—they simply demanded justice. When emancipation was passed, not the slightest intimation was given that the British colonists were to be exposed to competition with the slaveholders of Cuba and the Brazils. Mr. Wilberforce, and the other leaders of the antislavery party, always repudiated the notion. Lord Glenelg, in one of his despatches in 1838, stated in the plainest terms that faith would be kept with the planters. He had no complaint to make against the negro labourers as a body. They had, with few exceptions, been treated kindly by their owners previous to emancipation, and they were grateful for it afterwards; but their feelings had been worked upon by interested parties. Now, were the colonies worth preserving, or not? Considering the favour shown to the doctrine of "buying in the cheapest market, and selling in the dearest," it would not be surprising if it should be answered, that they were not. The House had heard of Mr. Stipendiary Strutt and the inertness of the proprietors in Guiana, and their neglect to adopt the vacuum-pan process, and so forth; he (Mr. Bernal) knew instances where the best processes had been tried, and every effort made, but in vain. At this moment, estates were being abandoned in Jamaica; estates were being forced to sale at prices so 1231 ruinously small that he should seem to draw largely upon the credulity of the House if he were to state them. He knew of one of 2,000 acres, with cattle and good works, and all the machinery proper for the cultivation of a sugar estate, offered for 1,800l to 2,000l. He knew of one, which it was reported was to be let for 100l. a year, if the stock could be got rid of, and which, in other times, had produced an income of some thousands a year. It might be said, "Why do you then, burden yourselves with the cultivation of such unprofitable estates?" Why, a great number of proprietors had nothing else to resort to—it was their last stake. Family settlements in many cases bound them strictly up, with covenants for the maintenance of the estates. They were entangled with these properties. They also lived in hopes of better times. He confessed that he, for one, was living in hope from day to day; but he was reminded of Dante's description of a place said to be "paved with good intentions;" there were sanguine and cheering prospects traced out by some parties, but the realisation of the prospects seemed to grow more distant day by day. Was the Jamaican less a subject of this realm than the Yorkshireman? Was he not entitled to the same privileges, and to an equal share of the protection and advantages, which the latter enjoyed? The Norfolk farmer had a protection as against the Pomeranian wheat grower by the amount of the freight and charges of shipping which are incurred on the importation of the produce of the latter; the West Indian had no such protection as against the Cuban; had he no right to a countervailing duty? He did not call it "protection;" he had never asked for protection. He never attended deputations at the Colonial Office—he liked to be free as the wind. He had trusted to the honour and good faith of the Government; not that he approved blindly of their schemes. To begin with the 500,000l., with respect to which the hon. Gentleman on the Treasury bench had said that he did not know where to lay his hand on a sufficient number of Kroomen, or other immigrants; he did not want these men to be imported to grind down the wages of the peasantry below their fair amount; all that he wanted was the moral effect of the knowledge that there was a fund of labour to resort to, if the negroes chose to be idle and neglect their work. With regard to the scale of duties, he knew it was far 1232 better for the West Indian interest to have a diminishing scale, as detailed on the part of the Government (confining himself to muscovado, and not referring to brown clayed sugar), than the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone.) The Government plan, in this particular, was infinitely the better. But with respect to the loan of 500,000l., surely it ought not to be limited to the importation of labourers. There were extensive works of a public nature, the construction of roads and railways, which might be carried on with great advantage. Jamaica, for instance, suffered in some of its districts greatly from drought; money expended for irrigation therein might be productive of the greatest benefit. He was acquainted with the case of a gentleman who had introduced the system of irrigration upon his properties in Porto Rico, and who at the end of four years had very considerably increased the production of sugar on his estate; in fact, he believed, such production had been made more than fourfold. [The hon. Gentleman here stated several numerical details in proof of this point.] This was no new system; it had been adopted in Spain, and also in the extensive empire of China. He must request the serious attention of hon. Gentlemen to this subject, for he considered that any grant of money that might be made to the West India proprietors would be equally advantageous, if applied to the furtherance of the public works to which he had referred, as to the promotion of immigration. Why, he would ask, should a West India proprietor be taunted with apathy, because he did not adopt the most expensive modern plans for the improvement of his West India property, when, although that property was subject to neither mortgage, jointure, dower, bond, or any other incumbrance, he would at this moment be unable to obtain an advance of 1,000l. upon it? The misfortune of the West India interest was, that it was constantly assailed with taunts and reproaches. It was well known to be weak, and the attacks made upon it bore the semblance of attempts to extirpate and destroy it. If he were disposed to enter into details, he thought he should be able to satisfy the House that the prosperity of this country had been intimately connected with, if not dependent upon, the maintenance of her colonies. He would ask the House whether, in the time of Rodney, and prior to that period, the safety of this country, and the security of 1233 the Throne, had not been mainly dependent upon the elongation, if he might use such a term, and the removal to a distance, of the scene of war; and whether, by these means, the calamities of war and rapine had not been averted from these happy shores? The old doctrine had been to preserve our colonies; but the modern doctrine seemed to be that it was vulgar and unfashionable to have any colonies at all. He would remind hon. Gentlemen that the Government of France, in order to promote the improvements of her colonial possessions, had formerly held out the promise of patents of nobility to those who engaged in the cultivation of the sugar care; and the Spaniards, proud as they were, had deemed it an honourable employment to engage in cultivating the rich districts of Cuba and St. Domingo. He should be sorry that at the present time this country should so far forget the dictates of prudence as to look upon her important colonial possessions as not worth keeping. He might observe that the island of Jamaica, with which he was more immediately connected, paid all her own local expenses. It was true the people of Jamaica did not pay their bishop, for, as the mitre and the prelatical robes were considered necessary for the colony by this country, the expense was borne by the mother country. The stipendiary magistrates and the commander of the forces were also paid by this country; but all other expenses connected with the Government were borne by the people of Jamaica. It might be said that Jamaica did not bear the charge of the West India regiments, and of the service companies of one or two regiments of the line that were stationed in the island; but he would remind the House that they had to send troops to Scotland to keep the peace of the country. ["No!" from an hon. Member from Scotland.] He (Mr. Bernal) was very glad to hear the Scotch were such a sedate set of men; but he begged to remind the hon. Gentleman that they occasionally heard of slight disturbances at Glasgow, or a little tendency to be noisy at Paisley. Donald was a very loyal man, but he thought Sandy, though perhaps equally loyal, was not always as quiet. He (Mr. Bernal) hoped that he would never be disposed to give a vote merely to further his own interest; but, finding that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had been true to his engagement with respect to the differential duty upon rum—that he had re- 1234 sisted the seductive coquetry of the Irish Gentlemen in that matter, he intended to vote in favour of the proposition of his noble Friend the Member for the city of London. For the reasons he had given, although he was not a sanguine or warm admirer either of that plan or of any other that had been propounded, he would vote so. He had to choose between difficulties, and he accepted the proposal of his noble Friend (Lord J. Russell) because no better plan had been brought forward.
§ SIR J. GRAHAM
Sir, although I have for some time wished to make a few observations on this subject, I was desirous not to obtrude my opinions upon the House; and I hope on that ground the House will exercise forbearance towards me, while I state very shortly my reasons for the vote I am about to give. I have listened with great attention to the remarks of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. I have listened to him on account of my great respect for his abilities, and also on account of his position as a distinguished Member of the West India body in this House. I can assure him that I did not join in that mirth which accompanied the statement of his vote; but I attempted in vain to discover what are the remedies which he, with his great knowledge and experience, would suggest to the House. I can also assure my hon. Friend that I entirely concur in the sentiments with which he commenced his speech. I think the subject we are now discussing is most important, that it is surrounded with many difficulties; and I agree with my hon. Friend, that, characterised as it is by its importance and its difficulty, it must be decided, if it be decided upon sound principle, with reference to the interests of the entire community. I agree also with my hon. Friend, in deprecating the introduction of bitterness into this discussion. I think that any feeling of that kind would most unworthily accompany anything which falls from me, and that anything like taunt and sarcasm from me would be peculiarly misplaced. For it is not denied that the West Indian interest are a suffering interest, and I agree with what has fallen from my hon. Friend that this commercial empire is under immense obligations to the West Indies with reference to its commercial and mercantile importance. I must again advert to the difficulty I have had in listening to the speech of my hon. Friend, to know what are the remedies which, from his judgment and experience, he considers 1235 practicable to be adopted. He declares that he is opposed to all importation of Coolies, which had been condemned by the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets, who had referred to printed evidence upon that subject. So also, if I mistake not, my hon. Friend objects to large importations of liberated Africans. ["No!"] It may, at all events, be doubted whether he thinks the importation of liberated Africans a boon to the colonies. Nor did my hon. Friend ask for protection, because he said that, considering the position of the West Indies with reference to the British farmer, as the farmer no longer enjoyed protection, the West Indian could no longer claim it. I confess that, after this disclaimer, I have great difficulty in knowing the precise views of my hon. Friend. I do not hold very different views from what my hon. Friend has expressed with respect to the legislation of this House, or rather of Parliament, with reference to the question of slavery and our slave policy in antecedent years. The abolition of the slave trade I consider as the proudest memorial of the short Administration of Mr. Fox, whose fortunate lot it was to see the triumph of the measure which, throughout his life, he had steadily advocated. I also regard as the proudest memorial of the Administration of Earl Grey the measure of slave emancipation, which I consider as a great triumph in the cause of liberty and humanity; and I rejoice that it was my good fortune to have a share in the Administration by which the abolition of slavery was carried. I do not deny that I regard it as a misfortune, and that the West Indies have some ground of complaint, that although the large sum of 20,000,000l. was granted when emancipation was carried, the apprenticeship system, which was a part of the general arrangement, was cut short by the Legislature. Now, having said this, I will give a brief glance at the legislation which followed when I had the honour of being a Colleague of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth and my right hon. Friend the Member for the university of Cambridge. There had been brought into direct competition with the West Indies, and admitted upon equal terms, the sugars of the East Indies and the Mauritius, when, in pursuance of the policy which received the sanction of the late Parliament, my right hon. Friend (Sir R. Peel) thought the time had arrived for reducing the price of articles of the first necessity, and our attention was directed 1236 to that article of great importance, the article of sugar. In 1844, when the tariff was altered, and the duty on articles of the first necessity, and more especially on articles constituting the food of the people, was reduced, we saw that the time had arrived when the duty on sugar must be reduced. But it was necessary to pay attention to what was the state of the supply, for it was quite clear that if the supply were deficient as compared with the demand, any reduction of duty would not have lowered the price to the consumer, but would have enhanced it only for the producer. It became necessary, then, to look to the state of the supply at that time, to look to the British possessions in the West and East Indies, and to calculate what would be the supply, supposing foreign sugar were practically excluded. The supply, then, appeared to us to be confined within such narrow limits that it was barely adequate to the demand, and an enlargement of the area of the supply appeared to us to be absolutely necessary. We thereupon resolved, simultaneously with a reduction of the duty upon colonial sugar, to admit upon easy terms, as compared with slave-labour sugar, sugar the produce of free labour. Now, I admit for myself—rand in discussing a matter of such vast importance, and speaking without the responsibility of office as an individual, I may be allowed to state the whole truth—that it was a great imperfection in the measure as introduced by us in 1845, that we did not give greater prominence to the important question of the encouragement or discouragement of the slave trade. Sir, it is impossible to deny, that by attracting free-labour sugar from the market of Europe you are creating a vacuum in that market which is filled up by slave-labour sugar. But at the same time I do not admit that the direct admission into the English market of slave-labour sugar is not a much greater encouragement than the indirect encouragement given to slave-labour sugar by admitting free-labour sugar into the English market. But that was not the only difficulty of the policy of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth. We were compelled to admit that it was necessary for us, under the obligations of treaties, and under the "most favoured nation" clause, to admit the sugar of the United States of America, and even of certain republics of South America. The admission of free-labour sugar thereby trenched upon the principle of not giving 1237 encouragement to slave labour; and the question was argued with consummate ability by my hon. Friend the Member for the University of Oxford, as between the Spanish Government and the American Government. The subject was one of great difficulty, but I think upon the whole the balance was in favour of the course which we pursued. Still I admit it was a doubtful case, and one in which good faith was concerned, which ought never to be swerved from. I am still disposed, on the whole, to defend the policy of 1845 with respect to the course we took upon the sugar duties; but the House will recollect that in the following year Her Majesty's present Ministers, with perfect consistency, almost necessarily pursuing, indeed, the course which they had adopted in opposition, sought to give effect to the policy which they had advocated then. They had objected to the admission of the sugar of the United States, and to the refusal to admit that of Cuba, on the grounds I have stated, that an imaginary line was drawn in taking the sugar of one slave-labour State and refusing that of another, and that the Spanish Government had, under treaty, a right to a different course from that which we adopted. Her Majesty's Ministers then, on their accession to power, sought in 1846 to destroy the difference between "lave and free-labour sugar. I can only say, speaking for myself, that I gave an unwilling support to that measure. I did so upon the grounds stated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth, who was the head of the Government under which I served; and, upon the whole, I considered that we had so lately left office—that the present Government, in displacing us, enjoyed the confidence of the House—it did appear to me altogether unfitting that I should take part in overturning the Government to which I had so lately given way, and that it was not desirable that I should attempt to produce a change in a Government which had been so lately formed. Now, I must say, that this House and the Legislature took the step of passing the Act of 1846 deliberately, on full argument, and after passing all the facts of the case in review. The bearing of the change of policy on the question of the encouragement of the slave trade, was amply discussed and considered, and the policy of 1846 deliberately received the sanction of both Houses of Parliament; and, without pronouncing any decision on a matter of this kind to be absolutely final, 1238 yet, I think the step then taken was deliberately taken—as deliberately as any Act that ever passed the Legislature—giving ample warning to the West Indies on the one hand, and to all foreign Powers on the other, that our policy with respect to sugar was a settled and a fixed one. What has been the effect of that policy? It has greatly added to the revenue, reduced the price to the consumer, and I am not satisfied that it has increased the slave trade in any great degree. At all events, I must say that the intention of the Legislature, as I collected it from what passed at the time, has been carried exactly into effect by the consequences of the measure which was then adopted. I now ask, what is the precise demand at present made on the Legislature in reference to a proposed reversal of the step taken in 1846? I have heard several suggestions; and my right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry said, I think, that "we want a little assistance to tide over our difficulties." This is exactly what I have heard from the West Indian body ever since I have had a seat in Parliament. "We want a little assistance," they say, but they never specify what that assistance should be. Then a petition had been presented from the West Indian body, which was a little more distinct; but I believe that petition was not quite formal, and there being some technical difficulty in the way, I doubt whether it was laid on the table or printed; but I think I caught some expressions used in that petition to this effect: the petitioners said that no legislation that does not assure profitable cultivation will be of any avail. Now, observe this is what they ask you to do—by legislation to assure profitable cultivation. That appeared to me to be a general request, which it was impossible to give effect to. Then we come to something still more specific in the proposition of my hon. Friend the Member for Droitwich, which we are now discussing; and though there was vagueness in the assertion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry to the effect that "we want some assistance to tide over our difficulties," and in the request of the West India body that Parliament should adopt "some legislation to assure profitable cultivation," I fully expected to find something specific in what the Member for Droitwich stated. He began by reference to immigration; and said that a 7s. differential duty per cwt. against foreign sugar, whether slave-grown or free- 1239 labour, was insufficient. Now I want to know what will be sufficient? Then we come to the report of the Committee over which the noble Lord the Member for Lynn presided, and I see it there stated that a discriminating duty of 10s. per cwt. for six years is indispensable, otherwise the abandonment of the majority of the estates is inevitable. A discriminating duty of 7s. is insufficient; but a discriminating duty of 10s. for six years is declared to be indispensable, unless the majority of the estates are to be thrown out of cultivation. Sir C. Grey, in that despatch of which we have heard so much, expresses an opinion similar to that at which the Committee arrived. The answer to that despatch was written by Earl Grey on the 14th of April, and I must be permitted to read a very short passage from it:—The high rate of wages, the insufficiency of the labour given, and the want of a steady command of it by the planters, are, in my apprehension, in a great measure attributable to those duties, which, by maintaining artificial prices of sugar, have induced the planters to compete with each other in the labour market, and produce in their turn artificial wages of labour. In point of fact, by leading the planters to expect prices for their produce which have not been realised, and thus inducing them to raise wages beyond their proper proportion to the market value of sugar, I believe the system of protection to have been seriously injurious to the cultivators of sugar. It is by reducing both prices and wages to their natural amount, that I hope to see the cost of production brought to its due proportions, and a sound basis established for that energy, enterprise, and improvement, by which the cultivation may be again rendered remunerative,I must say that this passage of the answer written by Earl Grey does appear to me to contain the sound doctrine fairly stated, and quite conclusive as an answer to the recommendations of Sir C. Grey. It was sound in principle, accurate in fact, and a good answer both to the recommendations of the Committee, and to the suggestions of Sir C. Grey. I will also refer to another authority on this point—to the hon. Member for Leominster, whose evidence before the Committee was characterised by ability, discretion, and fairness. In his evidence, if I mistake not, the hon. Gentleman stated that the amount of protection recommended by the Committee of 10s. would, if prolonged beyond two years, be injurious in the highest degree. In the case of the Mauritius it is not alleged that there is any want of labour; on the contrary, the immigration into the Mauritius has been pushed to an extent almost incredible, somewhere about 65,000 Coolies 1240 having been introduced within the last five years. This had stimulated the production to that degree, that notwithstanding this immense addition to the number of labourers, the rate of wages had risen from six to ten dollars a month. This was a proof of the truth of the observations of Earl Grey. I think there is a peculiarity in respect to sugar, which renders protection, as applied to that article, peculiarly dangerous. I think that in its very nature the growth of sugar is a gambling speculation, very much like the growth of hops in this country; the profits are sometimes great, and sometimes the losses immense; and anything like protection, holding out a prospect of high prices, generates infallibly speculation, which operates in the labour market, and the tendency of protection is greatly to enhance wages. What is the statement made by the hon. Member for Droitwich? There was a dispute between him and the hon. Member for Westbury, with respect to the different cost of production in the West Indies as contrasted with slave-labour countries. I will assume my hon. Friend the Member for Droitwitch to be right. He makes the average cost of production in the West Indies to be 1l. 2s. 8d. per cwt.; and the average cost of production in Brazil, Porto Rico, and Cuba, somewhere about 6s. 8d. per cwt.; making on the whole a difference of 15s. 9d. in the cost of production. Assuming my hon. Friend to be right, what becomes of the 10s. protection as an efficacious remedy? My hon. Friend's statement, assuming it to be right as to cost of production, is a conclusive argument against the efficacy of that proposition. But what is the proposition of my hon. Friend? As the proposition now stands in the hands of the Speaker, no one can tell what is the meaning of my hon. Friend; and though second thoughts are sometimes best for the purpose of catching votes, they do not always lead one to express one's meaning in the clearest possible manner. There is certainly a freshness about first thoughts which indicate the intentions of the party better. I have in my hand the first resolution of my hon. Friend, and it runs in these not ambiguous, but perfectly intelligible terms:—That any change in the present duties on sugar which is not in accordance with the resolutions which have been reported to the House by the Select Committee on Sugar and Coffee Planting in the present Session, will be insufficient to avert the ruin with which the sugar-growing pos- 1241 sessions of the British Crown are now threatened, or to check that increase of the slave trade which has been the result of the Sugar Duties Act of 1846.There is no disguising from ourselves this truth, that the proposition now urged upon the acceptance of the House is the adoption of a 10s. duty for a period of six years. That which we are called upon to do is to make this proposed duty permanent for six years, which it was said could alone prevent the throwing out of cultivation of the majority of the West Indian estates. I repeat that this proposition is no more or less than a 10s. duty for six years. This is certainly not the opportunity for discussing the plan of the Government, or the plan either of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford; but this I will at once say, that I am opposed to a 10s. duty for six years, for I consider it to be inexpedient, first, with reference to the colonies themselves. It cannot have been forgotten by the House that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire, when on the first night he was discussing the plan of the noble Lord, said, that two years ago he had foretold a reaction, and had specified the time at which he apprehended that that reaction would take place; and now the time of that reaction has arrived. I know that according to the strict rule of this House, I am not at liberty to state any accounts of what is supposed to have occurred in another place; but we cannot shut our eyes to the fact that Lord Stanley has proposed to prolong the time during which the corn laws are to continue in operation. We find, also, now in this House, the right hon. Member for Stamford, whom I rejoice again to see amongst us, for I am sure we all highly esteem his experience, knowledge, and eminent abilities, and consider his opinions entitled to great attention—now, as we all have heard, it is his opinion that nothing can be done for the relief of the West Indies. It is by some hon. Members, in effect, desired that we should have a duty approaching a prohibitory tax. If we went to a prohibitory duty—if, under the earnest advice which we have received, and influenced by the proposition of the Duke of Richmond, a reaction be impending, I have only to say, that to any such reaction I am opposed. In passing, let me advert to a little of what has been said with respect to cheap sugar, and of the connexion which the noble Lord said there existed between cheap production and low 1242 wages. I do not shrink from that declaration. My official experience—[Lord G. BENTINCK: You stated it both ways.] That taunt falls upon me harmlessly. No taunt can now drive me from office to make way for others. I have no power which the noble Lord or others may desire to deprive me of, to bestow it elsewhere. I desire nothing but to speak the plain truth. I was of opinion that low prices made low wages, but my official experience seems to justify the conclusion that high prices make low wages; and the effects of low wages fall most heavily on the working classes at a time when they are least able to bear that evil, because then they are in a condition the least able to purchase the prime necessaries of life. I am satisfied you must be most cautious not to let anything enhance the prices of articles of the first necessity. Cheap sugar is not to be laughed at; notwithstanding the anathema of the Duke of Richmond, sugar enters into the comforts of every family. It is the only little luxury that many families can enjoy; it renders palatable their rice, their gruel, their crout, their indifferent tea and coffee. It is our duty, as far as possible, to cheapen everything. When it becomes a question of reaction and of prohibitory duties, I oppose myself to reaction, for I believe that in the present state of the country that policy is impracticable; if practicable, most dangerous, and if carried into effect, I should tremble for the consequences, I promised not to detain the House long, and I shall only add that I consider this the first step in the line of reaction—that I am not prepared to take that step—and I will not waste the time of the House with another word, further than to say that I most sincerely intend to give my vote against the Amendment.
was understood to express no disinclination towards the Government proposal so far as regarded sugar, but to reserve his opinion with respect to the proposed alteration in the differential duty on rum, which was a very different matter. The hon. Member urged the claims of the Irish distillers to that consideration and justice to which they were so fairly entitled.
§ Debate adjourned until Thursday.
§ House adjourned at a quarter past Twelve o'clock.