HL Deb 02 June 1836 vol 33 cc1332-6
The Earl of Clare

rose, pursuant to notice, to present a petition agreed to at a numerous meeting of proprietors of East-India Stock, on the 6th of May, praying for an equalization of the duties on East and West-India sugars. He had already presented a petition of a similar nature from the European and native inhabitants of Bombay, on which occasion he had shortly stated the claims of the petitioners on the considerate attention of the Legislature; and feeling the subject to be one of great importance, he would again briefly trespass on their Lordships' time while he made a few observations on the subject. No one, he believed, would now venture to deny the justice of the claims of the petitioners; and in his opinion the representations made by them demanded, at the present time, particular consideration. Before the conclusion of the last charter, by which the China trade was taken from the Company, reasons founded on their possession of that trade might have been advanced against the claims of the petitioners; but, since the passing of that charter, those arguments no longer existed, for the whole burden of supporting the Government, civil and military, was thrown on the territorial revenue on the soil of India. Those expenses must be met by the industry of the natives of that country; and, therefore, every fair protection and encouragement should be extended to them. The Government of this country, he would say, was never in a better situation than now to ameliorate the condition of their fellow-subjects in India. No one knew better than he did the necessity which existed for fostering the industry of the natives of India. He took the warmest interest in the welfare of India, and that welfare, he was perfectly convinced, could not be effectually protected unless they allowed the natives a fair participation in the trade of this country, by admitting the produce of India into the home-market. He begged leave to ask the noble Viscount opposite, what the intention of Government was with reference to this subject?

Viscount Melbourne

said, their Lordships would see that it could not be in his power to give any decided answer to the question which had been put to him. The noble Earl knew, as well as he did, that when those distinctive and discriminating duties were imposed, it was for the protection of a very important interest, which had grown up under the system; and, therefore, the subject required to be most deeply considered before extensive alterations were made in it. The noble Earl must also know, that there were circumstances connected with the situation of one of the parties to whom the measure prayed for related, which rendered it necessary that they should be more than particularly cautious in considering and deciding on this question. He could assure the noble Earl, that his Majesty's Ministers were as sensible as the noble Earl was of the importance of the subject, and the strength of the claims set forth by the petitioners; and he trusted that, when they had communicated with the various parties whose interests were concerned, they would be enabled to introduce a measure that would prove satisfactory to all.

Lord Seaford

wished to call the serious attention of his noble Friend to this question, which involved a variety of very important considerations; especially after the measure of emancipation, which had been sanctioned by that and the other House of Parliament. He did not object to the prayer of the petitioners; he had no objection to affording to the growers of sugar in the East Indies a fair participation in the markets of the mother country. He however, wished to confine the privilege to sugar actually grown in those presidencies, and exported as surplus produce, after the wants of the presidencies were supplied. He certainly would not extend the privilege to sugar merely imported from those East- India possessions, without clearly ascertaining how the deficit occasioned by the exportation was filled up. His object was, if practicable, to afford effectual protection to the sugar of the West-India colonies, against the introduction of foreign sugar into the home-market. It was not merely sufficient to state that East-India sugar should be admitted to the home-market on the payment of low duties, it would be further necessary to provide that the transactions were of a bona fide nature. If this were not provided for, a trade might be carried on, in perfect compliance with the strict letter of the law, but which would not, in any degree, promote the professed object of those who were anxious for the equalisation of the duties—which would not benefit the grower or the consumer of sugar in India. He would take the case, to exemplify his argument, of a cargo of sugar shipped from China to any of our presidencies in India, exchanged there for native sugar, and the latter sent to London. If that portion of sugar were required for India, it would be consumed there; but, by the transfer which he spoke of, its place would be supplied in the India market by so much foreign sugar; and the effect would be practically, as he had already said, to introduce so much foreign sugar into the home-market. By transactions such as these the grower in India would not be benefitted—no new demand would be created—for as much foreign sugar would be introduced as was withdrawn of native sugar, the actual growth of the presidencies. Then, he would ask, was it desirable to supply the East Indies with, foreign sugar for their consumption, instead of allowing them to consume their own? Was it desirable to export native sugar from India, which the inhabitants required for their own consumption? He could not see that it was in any way desirable, either for the interest of the grower or of the consumer. If they wished to establish a new trade in foreign sugar, why, let it be done openly, and not in a covert way, which might injuriously affect important interests. The noble Lord then ad- verted to the Slavery Abolition Act, and observed, that if that experiment were successful, those who had carried it would have achieved the greatest triumph for humanity that any country had ever carried into effect. It was not enough, however, that the negro population should be emancipated; it was necessary that they should improve their moral as well as their physical and political situation. Therefore, it was necessary in legislating on this question of sugar that they should proceed with the greatest caution, since it was in the cultivation of that artice that the negroes were chiefly employed. The greatest proportion of the estates in the West Indies were under the cultivation of sugar. If that cultivation were rendered profitless, those estates must go to ruin, and the labouring population engaged on them, which was not less than two-thirds of the whole, would be thrown out of employment, and thus the beneficent intentions of the Legislature with reference to the negroes would be retarded, if not defeated. After alluding to the excellent working of the new system, especially in Jamaica, which he attributed in a great measure to the exertions of a noble Friend of his, he again adverted to the evil which might be produced by allowing the admission of foreign sugar, in the way he had stated, to the home-market, and called upon Ministers to consider how far it was worth while to run the risk of inflicting on the West Indies such a calamity as he had alluded to, by immediately abandoning a system which had so long prevailed.

The Earl of Harewood

was gratified to learn that nothing was to be immediately done in this matter, and that before any thing was done in it the subject would be properly considered. The claims of the West-India Colonies first to be relieved from all the restrictive duties to which they were now subject, could not be denied.

Lord Ellenborough

agreed in that part of the noble Viscount's speech as to the necessity of proceeding with due caution. The latter part of the speech induced him to suppose that Ministers meant to do something—most probably very little—with reference to this subject in the present session; but what that little would be he was left to conjecture. Considering what had fallen from the noble Baron (Seaford), it would have been well if the noble Baron had given some notice of motion before he brought under consideration the topics to which he had adverted, so that noble Lords might have come down prepared for their discussion. It did, however, appear to him at the time that the Bill for the emancipation of the slaves passed, that that measure was a final settlement with reference to the situation of the West-India Colonies, and he felt that the East Indies and the West Indies now stood precisely in the same situation and that both had an equal right to the favourable consideration and benevolent protection of Parliament, more especially now, when the Legislature had granted so large, so munificent an indemnity to the proprietors in the West Indies. He admitted that they must use much caution and circumspection in looking at those great interests which were connected with this subject; but, nevertheless, he did think that the question of the assimilation of duties between the sugars of the East and of the West Indies was no longer a question of principle, but merely of time; and he was convinced that the East Indies had a very great claim on the favourable and attentive consideration of Parliament. The manufactures of this country were sent into India at a very low rate of duty, in consequence of which the native manufacturers were almost destroyed. The greatest possible difficulty was experienced, not only in remitting to this country the fortunes of individuals, but in sending home those sums which were essentially necessary to meet the engagements of the Indian Government in this country. It was therefore a point of essential importance, both with reference to policy and justice, to afford every opportunity to India to enable her to avail herself of the resources of her soil.

The Marquess of Northampton

thought, the question was one upon which they should proceed with great caution, until they had ascertained what the result of the great experiment would be which was at present making in the West Indies. Great danger would arise to the success of the scheme of emancipation if, by failure of crops or other causes, the negro population were reduced to any distress. We should also lose the influence with foreign nations if such were to be the case, on a subject of greater importance even than that of slavery—namely, the slave-trade.

The clerk was proceeding to read the petition, when an informality was ob, served, and it was withdrawn.

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