HC Deb 19 May 1854 vol 133 cc618-26

House in Committee of Ways and Means.

On the First Resolution being read,


said, that, before asking the Committee to agree to the Resolutions that were on the paper, he wished to say a few words by way of explanation on the second Resolution, by which it was proposed that 17s. 4d. (with 15 per cent thereon) on foreign refined sugar should be charged until six weeks after the 5th of July, and that the reduced duty of 16s. per cwt. was not to be charged till after that time. The following were the grounds on which the Government made this alteration:—The Committee was aware that on the 5th of July the whole of the raw sugar taken into consumption by the refiners would suffer great diminution of duty; the duty at present was, in round numbers, 15s.; it would, on that day, be reduced to 12s. The British refiner could not possibly avail himself of this reduction on the raw material until the 5th of July, and, as the process of refining occupied a period of six weeks or two months, he would be placed in an unfair position as regarded the foreign refiner, unless this Resolution were agreed to. It was objected, on the other hand, that the foreign refiners had, in anticipation of this disability of the British refiner, ordered large quantities of sugar from abroad to arrive in this country on or about the 5th of July, in order to avail themselves of the reduction that was to have taken place, and that now they would by the proposed alteration not have that command of the market which they expected. It had, however, been thought but just that the British refiner should only be brought into fair competition with the foreign refiner, and this was sought to be effected by the second Resolution. The Committee by agreeing to the Resolution would not foreclose further consideration of the matter, and the Government would be open to listen to the representations of all parties, in order that the various interests involved in this question might be fairly adjusted.


said, he would suggest that other objections than the one mentioned would arise from the proposed alterations in the sugar duties. He wished particularly to call the attention of the Committee to the second Resolution, which was a direct deviation from the arrangements originally proposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer; it was fraught with injustice to all parties interested in foreign sugars, and involved a breach of contract that was not justifiable on any ground. The only attempt that had been made to justify the course proposed by the second Resolution was, that the British refiner would otherwise be placed in unfair competition with the foreign refiner, but if the small quantity of foreign sugar that went to the British refiner was taken into consideration, the Resolution could not be justified on that ground.


said, be begged to express his great satisfaction at the concession which had been made by Her Majesty's Government, and which was founded on the strictest principles of justice. If there was one subject more than another of which he thought he had taken leave for the rest of his life it was the sugar duties, and he had very little hope that he would have been called upon to express his satisfaction at having recourse to a sliding scale of sugar duties. At present he would say nothing of the policy of an alteration of those duties, but, in raising additional taxes for carrying on the war, the Government could not have selected one less open to objection, irrespective, of course, of the policy of putting a tax upon sugar.


said, he wished to suggest to the Committee the difficulty that he was afraid would arise in making a fair assessment in the present instance, as they had such a variety of duties on the same article.


said, he thought the proposal of the Government based on substantial justice, and hoped they would not do anything to bring the home manufacturer into competition with the foreign manufacturer before the time when it could be done on common grounds. He had full confidence that Government would do justice to all parties, and therefore would not oppose the Resolution.


said, he thought that it would be better to give a drawback to the home refiner during the period to which the Resolution referred, than to adopt the course proposed.


said, he wished to make one or two observations upon the discussion which had taken place. It had been stated that the present scale of duties was an attempt to remedy an obvious inequality which existed in the duties as they were levied before, with regard to the amount of saccharine matter contained in the different qualities of sugars. No doubt, that was the case; and he at once freely and frankly admitted that if it had been in their power to have allowed refining in bond without creating difficulties which it was most desirable to avoid, that would have been a far more just measure to all the parties concerned than the proposal now before the Committee, because in that ease the duty would have been paid in exact proportion to the amount of saccharine matter yielded by the different qualities of sugars. But when they considered the extensive Excise restrictions which would have been required, they were not prepared to encounter such great difficulties, or to place so important a trade under the disadvantages which every excise trade must necessarily labour under; and, therefore, when hon. Members said they hoped that the present scale of duties had been adopted as an approximation to the benefits which would have been obtained by refining in bond, he was bound to state to the Committee that the Government had no intention of departing from their present proposal, or of adopting, under any circumstances, the system of refining in bond in lieu of it.

Resolution agreed to.

ResolvedThat in lien of the Duties of Customs upon

Sugar and Molasses, which shall become payable from and after the 5th day of July, 1854, under the Act 11 and 12 Via., c. 97, the following Duties shall be charged on Sugar and Molasses imported into the United Kingdom; (that is to say), s. d.
"Candy, Brown or White, Refined Sugar, or Sugar rendered by any process equal in quality thereto (except as hereinafter mentioned), for every cwt 16 0
"White Clayed Sugar, or Sugar rendered by any process equal in quality to White Clayed, not being refined or equal in quality to refined, for every cwt. 14 0
"Yellow Muscovado and Brown Clayed Sugar, or Sugar rendered by any process equal in quality to Yellow Muscovado or Brown Clayed, and not equal to White Clayed, according to a standard to be furnished by the Treasury, for every cwt. 12 0
"Brown Muscovado, or any other Sugar, not being equal in quality to Yellow Muscovado or Brown Clayed Sugar, according to a standard to be furnished by the Treasury, for every cwt. 11 0
"Molasses, for every cwt. 4 6"

On the Second Resolution being read,


said, he wished it to be distinctly understood that, according to the statement of the hon. Member for Westbury (Mr. Wilson) the passing of this Resolution was not to preclude the further consideration of it by the Treasury. In the meantime, however, he thought it was desirable that the Committee should know what it was of which the trade complained. It was this. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in making the announcement which was now followed up by these Resolutions, stated that the change which the Government proposed in the sugar duties would come into operation on the 5th of July, and that from that day the different kinds of refined sugars would be admitted at a duty of 16s. per cwt. In consequence of that declaration a number of merchants gave large orders for foreign refined sugars to be sent to them, and entered into contracts, for the fulfilment of which they were, of course, responsible. Having thus compromised themselves to a large amount they suddenly found that, for some reason or other, the Treasury had put back the day from the 5th of July to the 16th of August. What was the consequence of that? It was well known in the sugar trade that the most important part of the year for the consumption of sugars was the fruit season, the greater part of which must be included between the 5th of July and the 16th of August; and therefore all these merchants who had made contracts for foreign refined sugars, to be de- livered to them on or before the 5th of July, would have to lay those sugars up till after the 16th of August. They would not have the benefit of the summer sale, and other parties who had got their sugars ready to be brought into the market would obtain all the benefits of the consumption in the fruit season. He thought the Committee would see that the case of the merchants to whom he had referred deserved the most careful consideration, and it was for that reason that he was anxious to have it clearly understood that the passing of this Resolution was not, in the first place, to preclude its reconsideration on the part of the Treasury, and was not, in the next place, to prevent the further agitation of the question in case no remedy should be provided by the Government.


said, he hoped, after what had fallen from the hon. Secretary to the Treasury, that the Government would consider this matter, and allow foreign refined sugar to come in at the same date as foreign raw sugars. If, however, he could show that there was any injustice to the home refiner, let them adopt the suggestion of the hon. Member for South Lancashire (Mr. W. Brown), and grant them a drawback. He would not divide the Committee at the present time, on the understanding that the question was to receive the further consideration of the Government.


said, he agreed with the hon. Secretary to the Treasury that there were great difficulties in the way of refining in bond, and thought it would be better to fix definitely in the Bill what the duties should be.


said, that when Resolutions were brought forward they should either be adopted or rejected at once. He thought it would be mere trifling if the Committee were to pass the Resolution now solely with the view of reconsidering it at a future day.


expressed his intention to support the Amendment, and said that his constituents in the sugar trade had given their orders on the faith of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's statement, which they could not suppose he would afterwards depart from.


said, he did not think it was wise in the Committee to oblige the Chancellor of the Exchequer to adhere strictly and precisely to the terms which he might have used in making his financial statement. When he announced the changes which he intended to propose in the sugar duties he could not possibly have had any communication with parties engaged in the trade, and it was obvious that by representations subsequently made to him by those parties, he might be induced to alter the Resolutions which were ultimately to be proposed to the House. If, therefore, gentlemen chose to speculate upon the strength of statements made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the first instance, instead of waiting till the House, by affirming his Resolutions, had declared what the proposed changes should be, they had no right to come to Parliament and complain of having been misled and deceived.


said, he was obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for the constitutional reason he had given why the merchants had no right to complain; but fortunately the argument was not required, because the alleged grievance was a mistake, and the hon. and learned Member for Belfast (Mr. Cairns) laboured under a complete misapprehension. The Chancellor of the Exchequer never proposed that the new scale of duties upon foreign refined sugars should come into operation on the 5th of July; on the contrary, when he made his statement to the House he held in his hand the precise Resolution which was now before the Committee, and that Resolution would have been passed upon that occasion, but for the proposition of the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. T. Baring) to put on an additional duty of 15s. all round, instead of at once adopting the new arrangement. He supposed that the transactions referred to by the hon. and learned Member for Belfast had been entered into upon the faith of the Act of 1848, which he admitted parties had no reason to presume would cease to be the law of the land; and, if so, it was plain that the risk and inconvenience which the sugar merchants had incurred were merely those to which every trade was exposed when that House undertook to alter the law. At the same time, he was bound to repeat the observation which he had previously made, that the passing of this Resolution would not preclude the Treasury from reconsidering the question.


said, he thought it was not unlikely that this Resolution was in the hand of the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he made his financial statement to the House, and he also would admit that the exact time at which the alteration of the duties was to take place might have been misunderstood; but it was quite impossible that the Chancellor of the Exchequer could have been understood to say that there was to be a distinction between the time when the duties were to be altered upon raw sugars, and the time when the duties were to be altered upon refined sugars. He ventured to affirm that the Chancellor of the Exchequer never said a word to that effect. The right hon. Gentleman was not generally so difficult to understand as to lead to a mistake of that kind. What the trade understood him to say was, that the proposed change would be made simultaneously upon raw and refined sugars, and it was now for the first time that they learned from the lips of the Secretary of the Treasury, and from the terms of his Resolution, that such was not to be the case. He could not help thinking that the trade had been exceedingly ill used; and when the right hon. Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Goulburn) told them that they were not to speculate upon the strength of a statement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he was astonished to hear such an observation fall from a Gentleman who had himself so long and so worthily filled the high office of Finance Minister, and who, during the whole of his career, never uttered a word which he did not carry out fairly and honestly.


said, he wanted to know what the hon. Member meant by "the trade." He understood that the hon. and learned Member for Belfast (Mr. Cairns) was anxious that the new scale of duties, instead of commencing on the 16th of August, should be brought back to the 5th of July, in order to prevent a few rash and premature speculators in foreign sugars from sustaining a loss. Now, all he had to say was that any merchant who speculated upon the strength of a statement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in bringing forward his Budget must be a very inexperienced and a very imprudent man. It very seldom happened that the whole of a Budget was stated accurately or clearly, and no part of such a statement was more liable to be misunderstood than that wherein alterations of duty were proposed. He was surprised, therefore, that such speculations should have been entered into as those to which the hon. and learned Member for Belfast had referred; but, whatever might be his feelings towards those parties who had been guilty of so much rashness and im- prudence, he felt it his duty to oppose the proposition of the Government as it stood.


said, that there could be no doubt that English refiners of sugar ought to have every just preference that could be allowed them, but, at the same time, he did not consider it advisable, on a collateral issue like the present, to open the whole question of the sugar duties. He believed that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had only done justice to the English refiners in the course which he had considered it his duty to advise the House to follow.


said, he must deprecate any further discussion upon this subject in the then state of the House, so many Members having left on the understanding that, in consequence of the absence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, these matters would not be seriously gone into. There was no doubt that this subject might be arranged to the satisfaction of all parties if it were temperately considered, and adjusted in the usual way that all these nice financial questions were always best disposed of—namely, the quiet consideration of them by parties principally and mutually interested in them.


said, he wished to know, after what had been said, whether the Government were still open to conviction, or whether he was to understand from the right hon. Baronet the Member for Halifax (Sir C. Wood) that they would abide by their Resolution?


said, he had merely stated that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was open to solicitation on this question.


said, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had made a statement of his intention to raise the duty upon the lower class of sugar; but he had left it to be supposed that no alterations were to take place relative to the duties on refined sugars. He considered that the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was very indistinct upon the matter.


said, he considered that the proposition of the hon. and learned Member for Belfast was both fair and reasonable, and he had little doubt that his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be happy to hear any reasonable suggestions on the subject.


said, that as the Government were evidently disposed to allow all fair reconsideration to the question, he was happy to have an opportunity of meeting the convenience of the Committee, and would not continue his opposition to the Resolution.

Resolution agreed to.

Resolved2. "That the Duty of 17s. 4d. (with 15 per cent thereon) for every cwt. now payable on Candy, Brown and White, Refined Sugar, or Sugar rendered by any process equal in quality thereto, shall continue to be charged on all such Sugar being the growth or produce of any Foreign Country, until the 16th day of August, 1854 inclusive, and that from and after the 16th day of August the Duty of 16s. shall be charged on such Sugar for every cwt.


3. "That in lieu of the Bounties and Drawbacks now payable on the exportation of Refined Sugar, the following Bounties or Drawbacks shall be allowed from and after the 8th day of May, 1854, on the exportation from the United Kingdom of the several descriptions of Refined Sugar hereinafter mentioned (that is to say), s. d.
"Upon Refined Sugar in loaf, complete and whole, or lumps duly refined, having been perfectly clarified and thoroughly dried in the stove, and being of an uniform whiteness throughout, or such Sugar pounded, crushed, or broken, Sugar Candy, the cwt. 15 0
"Upon Bastard or Refined Sugar, broken in pieces, or being ground or powdered Sugar, or such Sugar pounded, or crushed or broken, for every cwt. 11 0"