§ Mr. W. Whitmore
, in rising to bring forward the motion of which he had 445 given notice upon this subject, commenced his observations by expressing the regret which he felt that it had not been taken up by some member who possessed greater abilities and exercised greater influence over the House than fell to the lot of an humble individual like himself. He therefore requested the House, as far as he was individually concerned, to grant him its indulgence, and as far as the question itself was at stake, to give it that calm and serious deliberation which it required, on account of the important interests which were involved in it. With a view of simplifying the question, and putting it as concisely as possible before the House, he should arrange his observations under three distinct heads: the first, relating to the interest of the consumer in England; the second, to the interest of India and our trade with that country; and the third, to the interest of the West-India planters. With regard to the first point, he did not think it necessary to enter into any argument to prove that the consumer was entitled to the greatest competition that could be produced in the market. There might, indeed, be an exception to that as to every other general rule; but he did not think that any man would contend that such an exception existed in the present case. Now, the House was aware, that there existed at present an extra duty of 10s. in one instance, and of, 15s. in another, payable on sugar brought from the East, above that which was payable upon sugar brought from the West Indies. It was difficult to calculate what the exact effect of that extra duty was upon the consumer; for the price of sugar was at present, so low that it would be unfair to judge what price it ought to bear from the price which it now actually bore in the market. But, as far as he was able to judge from the data which he had before him, he believed that the restrictions which were placed on East-India sugars, and the species of monopoly which was thus given to West-India sugars, cost the consumer, in ordinary years, no less a sum than two millions sterling.
The hon. member, after stating the grounds upon which he came to this conclusion, proceeded to consider the manner in which these duties affected the interest of our empire in India. He contended, that the measures which the 446 House was now pursuing were full of injustice to our subjects in Hindostan, and maintained, that if they were persisted in, they would be productive of consequences which must render our dominion over them extremely insecure. The hon. member then entered into a. consideration of our trade with India, in order to give the House an opportunity of taking a fair view of the question. He showed, that from the earliest periods to which it could be traced, down to the day on which it had been rendered open, the private trade between Europe and India had always been of the same description. Drugs, spices, and silks, were imported into Europe from India, and bullion was invariably exported in return for them from Europe into India. The opening of the private trade with India had, however, created a most extraordinary revolution in that commerce. The consequence had been, that a mart had been discovered for British manufactures, on which nobody could have calculated before it was actually found to exist. The exports of woollen goods from Europe to India amounted in 1815 to 183,430l. but in 1822 amounted to 1,421,649l. But, what was most extraordinary was the change that had been effected in the cotton trade between India and this country. Formerly, we had imported certain cotton goods from India; now, we were actually supplying that natives with those articles at a lower price than that for which they could afford to manufacture them. In 1815, the export of cotton goods to the eastward of then Cape of Good Hope amounted to 109,480l.: in the year 1822, they had increased to 1,120,325l. He looked upon this circumstance as quite decisive of the singular revolution which had taken place in the trade with India; and, reflecting on the distance at which we were from that country, and the low price at which labour could be obtained in it, he considered the fact of our being enabled to import the raw material into this country, to change it into a manufactured article, to export it back again to India, and then to sell it at a lower price than that at which the natives could afford to sell it in their, own markets, to be one of the most extraordinary triumphs of skill and industry that had ever been recorded in the annals of commercial enterprise. But, at the time that they were extolling their own skill and ingenuity, it was requisite to consider the consequences which they 447 might produce in India. They had entirely destroyed the native manufactures. They had annihilated, at least in the neighbourhood of the Presidencies the trade, which had existed there from the earliest periods. This event might prove either a blessing or a curse. It would prove a blessing, if the house should enable the natives of India to employ, in another channel the industry which it had diverted from its former objects. But it would prove a curse indeed, if the house, after destroying their manufactures should be guilty of an act of such gross injustice and atrocity, as to refuse to take from them such articles of commerce as their industry still enabled them to produce. Besides what would be the consequence of such a proceeding? Did they imagine that they could exercise such a tyranny over India with perfect impunity? Let them recollect what had been the case, when they had endeavoured to exercise a similar tyranny over the people of Ireland. It would be in the recollection of the House, that, before the American war, they had been in the habit of inundating Ireland with English manufactures, and of taking no productions of Irish industry in return. There was even a vote upon their journals, in which the importation of Irish cattle into England was declared to be a nuisance. But, what was the result of such a system? Why, that Ireland, during that disastrous period of our history—the American war—demanded of us, with the bayonet in her hand, that privilege, which we had previously refused to grant her as an act of justice. Now, did the House think that similar conduct could be pursued towards India without producing a similar result? Relying on the unwarlike nature of the inhabitants of India, would they persist in a line of policy that was full of the grossest injustice? And, supposing that they would, could they do so with safety to the important interests which we had there at stake? Did they not know, that the very existence of the British power in India depended on seapoy arms, and the native feeling remaining strongly attached to our interests? If the native feeling were, alienated from them, and the seapoy bayonet were wielded against them, their empire in India would not last for a single moment; and, if it once passed away, it would vanish, "and like the baseless fabric of a vision, leave not a wreck behind." They might perhaps imagine that there was no chance of any 448 foreign invasion of India. But he would ask, what would be their condition if they persisted in their present line of conduct, supposing that a second Alexander should, after overcoming a second Darius, find himself on the banks of the Hydaspes or the Tigris, and in a situation to invade India from the north? Did they think that, under such circumstances, the natives would not avail themselves of the opportunity to shake off their yoke? Undoubtedly they would. And he therefore said, that if they persisted in their present course, they would before long have occasion to rue it.
The hon. member then proceeded to show, that if their present policy was contrary to justice, it was no less opposed to their own individual interests. There was no man, who looked at the distress in which almost every part of the mercantile world had recently been involved, who would not admit that it was the duty of the House to adopt such measures as were calculated to increase the general trade of the country. But, if we would extend trade, we must make it reciprocal. Without reciprocity, we could not only not extend our trade, but even maintain it at its present extent. When they reflected on the present low profit of manufacturing capital, and the great temptation to transfer it to other quarters of the world—on our national debt, which bung over us like the sword of Damocles—it was evident, that it was only by extending to the utmost the exertions and the commerce of the county, that we could emancipate ourselves from our present painful situation. Now, there was no part of the world in which the trade of this country could be so much increased as in India. Our commerce with Hindostan was as yet only in its infancy. There was no assignable limit to it, if the House would only permit our merchants to take from India those articles which she was enabled to produce, and would abolish those protecting and discriminating duties, against which his present motion was principally directed. But, great as was the avidity of the natives to purchase English goods, they would be incapacitated from doing so, if they were not allowed to give their, own articles in exchange for them, and our commerce with them would not only, hot be increased, but would not even continue in that successful state to which he was happy to say it had now arrived. It ought to be recollected, that in 449 former times there was a great importation of bullion into India, in return for the drags and spices which she sent to Europe. Now, he had shown that this importation had in a great degree ceased; and without staying to inquire what would be the effect of withdrawing more bullion from India, he thought it must be obvious to every man, that as India did not pro' duce bullion, all trade with it must cease if it were not permitted to export its own produce. He therefore contended, that, I as far as our empire in India was concerned, the House was bound, not only by a sense of justice, but also by a sense of interest, to abolish the restrictions with which the importation of East-India sugar into the home market was at present fettered and impeded.
He should next proceed to consider the question with regard to the interests of the West-India islands. And here he must remark, that the chief argument on which the West-India planters seemed to rely was, that they had a right to these protecting duties: nay, they even insinuated that they had a chartered right to them. In vain did he look for this charter amid acts of parliament and grants of the Crown. But, though he could not find this charter, he found, in the course of his search for it, a fact that was scarcely less important; namely, that the duties on East-India sugar had sometimes been the same as those on West-India sugar; nay, that they had sometimes even been less. Previously to 1813, the duties on East-India sugar were really ad valorem duties, and though generally higher, were, whenever the price of sugar was considerably depressed, really lower than the duties on West-India sugar. This was decisive as to the chartered rights of the West-India planters.—The hon. member then gave an historical detail of the various measures by which the West-India planters had obtained the imposition of an extra duty of 15s. on East-India sugar, and contended that, though they might have some claim to protection when the colonial system was flourishing in full vigour, they had none at present when it was relaxed. He then proceeded to point out the measures which he thought the House ought to adopt, even supposing that the West-India planter should have a chartered right to their present protecting duties. The case of Ireland, to which he had before had occasion to refer, formed a case exactly in point. If 450 there was any interest for which the House Were inclined to stickle more than for another, it was the agricultural interest. That interest, from long usage and ancient practice, might almost be said to have gained a prescriptive right to an exemption from all competition in the English market with the agricultural produce of Ireland. And yet, in the year 1806, not with standing the existence of this right, the House determined on allowing the free admission of Irish produce into the English market. He did not complain of the resolution to which the House had come upon that occasion. On the contrary, he praised it, and thought that it afforded them a fit precedent to follow on the present occasion. It had been said, that the present time was exceedingly adverse to the motion—that it was hard to bring it forward at a moment when the West-India interests were suffering such deep distress. He lamented that distress as much as any man could do; but it was necessary here to look a little at its cause. Its cause was not the competition of East-India sugar; nor its cure, the more rigid enforcement of the monopoly enjoyed by West-India sugar. By one mode only could the distress be relieved—by a general change of the whole system in the West Indies. As long as slavery existed—as long as the poor lands were made to produce sugar—as long as freights continued so high, in consequence of overcharge—so long would the West Indies be distressed. The great grievance was the slave system. Wherever slavery existed the cost of production was so much increased as to render it impossible to compete with those countries where the soil was cultivated by free labour.—Slavery had uniformly produced the same effects, not only in the West Indies, but in Poland, in Russia, and in South America. Mr. Coxe had shown the beneficial effects of substituting free labour for the slave system in Poland, as exemplified in an experiment made by a Polish nobleman, named Sobieski. A similar experiment was made by Mr. Steele in the West Indies, in the year 1787, by which the produce of that gentleman's estates was actually trebled. He was convinced that the abolition of slavery was a measure in which humanity and interest were not only not divergent, but in which they were perfectly reconcilable. He should not compromise the present question, nor acquiesce in any 451 half measures which might be proposed by his majesty's government; for unless the committee for which he moved were granted, he should unquestionably feel it his duty to take the sense of the House upon his motion. He did not call upon the House to make any specific alteration in the existing system, but merely to inquire into the expediency of making some alteration; and he trusted he had stated enough to convince the House of the necessity of repressing a course of proceedings, not only of the most unjust, unfeeling, and unfair character, but full of peril to the commercial interests of this country.—The hon. member concluded by moving, "That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the Duties payable on East and West-India Sugar."
§ Mr. C. Ellis
, after complimenting the hon. gentleman on the talents he had displayed on this and on previous occasions, said, he thought that the present question was peculiarly unfit for reference to a committee. It was not a matter of detail where local and practical information was required from witnesses acquainted with the commerce or situation of the West Indies: it was a question of state policy and high principle—of regard for vested interests and antecedent claims—in a word, whether this country would make the sacrifice of its West-India colonies for the encouragement of a new commercial speculation. Among the arguments which it had been of late the fashion to introduce on this subject, he must beg leave to protest against those which supported the system of a free, unrestricting, and unlimited commerce. He did not mean to enter into the merits of the general theory, but he denied its applicability to the present question. What the East-India interest required was, not the freedom of trade; they required an equalization of the duties on East and West-India sugar; but they left in full force the prohibitory duties on foreign sugar. They asked for merely so much as would enable them to supplant the West-India colonists in the home market, and afterwards to retain to themselves the exclusive supply of the sugar consumed in this country. As to the argument founded on the indefinite increase of the demand for British manufactures in India, he thought it could not be fairly introduced into this question. Undoubtedly, the demand for British manufactures might be partially increased by the ruin of the West-India colonists; but 452 it was the duty of that House to consider a previous question—whether having established the system now existing in the West-India colonies, it was consistent with sound justice and policy to destroy it? The protection extended to the West-India colonists had been conceded as a compensation for restrictions to which the East-India interest was not subject. If it were not a formal charter, it was art absolute compact with the consideration of value received, and not less valid than positive law. The West-India colonists denied the right of others not subjected to the same restrictions, to participate in their advantages; and on this ground resistance was now made to the claim of the East Indies; The hon. gentleman admitted, that up to the last year, the compact did exist; but he contended, that it was now violated, and the restrictions removed. But for needless detail, he could undertake to prove to the hon. gentleman, that the compact had not been violated or infringed. He would only detain the House while he mentioned the restrictions upon the West Indies according to laws now in force. In the first place they remained subject to all the restrictions regarding the supply of British manufactures. By the intercourse bill of last year, the trade was limited strictly to some articles before permitted to be imported. Nothing was lost to the British manufacturer in point of protection—nothing gained to the West-India planters in point of restriction. The protection to the farmers and provision-merchants of Ireland was the same as formerly—that of the British fisheries remained untouched—and the British ship-owners were still allowed the exclusive carrying trade; all of which were extremely onerous to the West-India colonies. It was contended, that it was the right of the British consumer to purchase sugar wherever he could obtain it; and, with respect to the restrictions, the hon. member opposite expressed his readiness to concur in any measure for their removal. No doubt. And he would find many others connected with the East-India trade who would be of the same opinion. It was not, however, to such persons that he addressed his arguments, but to those whose opinions were not influenced by interested considerations, and especially to his majesty's government, whose duty it was, to protect with impartiality the interests of all classes of the community. This was not 453 merely a question between the East and West-India colonies, but a question between the East-India colonies, and all the important British interests connected with our colonial trade. With respect to our West-India colonies, it should be recollected, that a capital of not less than a hundred millions had been vested in them; and it had been so vested under the sanction of acts of parliament. Many important acquisitions, Demerara, St. Domingo, St. Lucie, Berbice, and other islands, had been made in the last treaty of peace, and the acts which had been passed, extending protection to our colonies, had given a pledge to the country of the value which the legislature set upon them. Would the House, then, at that moment, and under such circumstances, hold out to the country, that in fact all these important acquisitions were good for nothing? Would it at once renounce the antiquated notion, that colonies were beneficial to the parent state? The House could not forget how much the large mercantile marine of the West Indies had contributed to support the naval power of Great Britain. There were other difficulties behind of no slight importance, and which it was far from easy to solve. The negro population in the West Indies consisted of not less than from 700,000 to 800,000 souls; and it was singular that the hon. gentleman had omitted all notice of them in the course of his speech. The ruin would not be confined to a few sugar estates. It would extend to all that was connected with them; to the large breeding farms, to all the tradesmen, and to the negroes in their employment. He did not know what the proportion might be elsewhere, but he would venture to say that in the island of Jamaica, out of a population of 350,000 souls, not less than from 250,000 to 300,000 would be thrown out of work, and deprived of the means of subsistence. What must become of them? His imagination did not enable him to embrace all the frightful consequences of a change so tremendous. Could the supporters of this motion show any other profitable employment for them; or could they hold out a hope of the establishment of a state of society consistent with the resolutions passed last week for ameliorating the condition of the negroes?—There was still one other consideration to which he wished to advert before he concluded. Contemplating this enormous change, was the House prepared to decide what, course, the coun- 454 try would adopt with regard to her future relations with the colonies? Was she still to maintain them permanently as military or naval stations; or only to keep them until the ruin of the planters was consummated; or was she at once to abandon them, and set them free to any country that thought it worth while to possess them? These alternatives presented no very satisfactory results. They only left a choice of difficulties; and he warned the house not to incur the necessity of solving them. The subject involved a further question, of high moral character, and the sacrifice of valuable British interests wound up with her colonial system. It was enough for him to have shown that these important matters were included in the apparently simple proposition of the hon. gentleman for equalizing the duties on East and West-India sugars, to justify his own vote, and he hoped it was also enough to satisfy the House that it ought not to entertain this motion.
Mr. Keith Douglas
said, he was quite ready to concur with the observations made by the advocates for the doctrines of political economy. He had no doubt that, if the principle could be universally applied, every branch of human industry might be accommodated in a convenient manner, by enabling the inhabitants of all countries to purchase the articles of which they stood in need at the cheapest rate and without restriction. But, as this universal application was, if not impossible, at least not practicable, he besought the House to recollect that the existing commercial interests of this country were founded upon different principles. The eminence to which that branch of those interests now under discussion had risen, was to be attributed solely to the colonial compact sought to be broken down by the present motion. If the East-India sugars should be admitted to equal privileges which this compact had granted to those of the West Indies, the ruin of the latter colonies would be effected. He would draw the attention of the House to some facts which would illustrate the view he had taken of the interests of the colonies. The value of British and Irish manufactures exported to the West Indies might be estimated at the annual average of 3,560,000l. It had amounted to a larger sum during the war, but from the experience of some years past, he was justified in stating that to be the annual sum liable to little or no fluc- 455 tuation. The number of ships employed in this trade was 1,585, carrying a tonnage of 438,000; the number of seamen was, 23,700; and a revenue of 5,500,000l. was annually derived from this colonial commerce. It might be said by gentlemen on the other side, that if this commerce should be transferred from the West Indies, the same advantages would ensue from other sources. He was not prepared to admit this; but if he did, he felt it was impossible that the House should therefore consent, that the individual interests connected with the trade should be sacrificed, unless for some reasons of vital importance to the state. In the last charter granted to the East-India company, a duty of 10s. had been imposed upon their sugar, lord Liverpool at that time expressly recognizing the compact for which he (Mr. D.) contended, and guarding against an infringement of the exclusive supply by the West-India colonies. It might be said, also, that the act of the last session, permitting a free trade to the continent, opened advantages for the sale of West-India produce equivalent to those which would be taken away by the present motion if it were carried. It must be recollected, however, that 70,000 slaves were computed to have been carried annually for several years to Cuba, to the Brazils, and to other places, and that the continental markets were, in fact so glutted and over-stocked, that it would be a mockery to call the privilege of sending produce thither a benefit. If had been urged, that the East Indies being also British colonies were as well entitled to protection as those of the West Indies; but he was far from thinking this was a sufficient reason for extending the principle of exclusion to them. In India, forty thousand British subjects swayed, by a sort of magic, the destinies of eighty millions of the native inhabitants. The House, in considering the commercial capacities of a country, must look to the manners and habits of the people. In 1818, that year in which a greater trade had been carried on in India than had been before, or would be again, it appeared, by returns on the table, that the tonnage of vessels employed in the outward and homeward voyages amounted to 205,000 tons, while that of the last year had been reduced to 137,000. This reduction arose, not from the restrictions on sugar, but from 456 other causes. In the same year of 1818, the importation of cotton from the East Indies amounted to 247,000 bags. Supplies then began to come from other quarters, and the prices fell; and last year they had only reached 19,000 bags. Thus a medium of exchange of three millions sterling had been reduced to 120,000l. America, in 1818, had supplied 220,000 bags of cotton. Last year, notwithstanding the fall of the prices, the ability and intelligence of the Americans had been such as to send 330,000 bags to this market. It was, therefore, from this cause, and not from the want of sale for sugar, that the East-India trade was reduced. He denied that if all that was sought should be granted, the benefit to the East Indies would be such as was held out. The consumption of sugar in this country was 140,000 tons. If one half of this were transferred to the East Indies, it would furnish them only with an exchangeable medium to the amount of about 700,000l. sterling. The proposed measure would be cruel, unnecessary, and unwise, and the mischiefs resulting from it so obvious, that unless some greater advantage than, had yet been stated were pointed out, he should persist in the determination he had formed of opposing it.
contended, that the consumer was benefitted by the present state of things, and that the East Indies produced instances of more degrading slavery than the West. The population of India was divided into four classes, of which the Soudah was the scum, and the Bramin the head. The lowest cast could no more rise to a higher, such were the institutions of the country, than a horse could become a man. The incapacity of India under this wtetched system of slavery was such, that she could not even compete with the free labour of Italy for silk, though India had three crops in the year and Italy but one, and the production of sugar required still more exertion. From the destruction caused to the roots of the canes by the white ants, it would be impossible ever to make the growth of sugar in the East Indies sufficiently productive. Though, in 1792, an attempt was made to establish a colony for the growth and manufacture of 6ugar, China, Batavia, and Java, still continued to supply Bengal and Madras with that commodity. It was not for the interest of the consumer that the present system should be changed, and it would be worse for India herself. 457 The whole was, in fact, a question between the East-India and West-India agents. The amount of their commission depended upon the amount of the sales of sugar for their respective colonies; and he trusted the House would therefore not hesitate to prefer the vested interests of the West-India proprietors to the interested attempts of these agents.
§ Mr. Ricardo
congratulated the House upon the comfortable information contained in the speech of the hon. member who bad spoken last, and who had shown, that, what with the white ants and other difficulties, it would be impossible for the East-India planters ever to compete with those of the West-India colonies. The inference from which was, that there was nothing to fear from allowing them the advantage required. On this occasion he would take the liberty of quoting a speech of the hon. member for Sandwich (Mr. Marryat) in 1809, which was marked throughout by its strict adherence to the true principles of political economy. In that speech, the hon. member had contended for the policy of admitting the conquered colonies to an equal participation in the trade with the other colonies of England. The question at that time was, whether the colony of Martinique should be allowed to send its sugars to the British market on the same terms as the other colonies, and the hon. member had then clearly shown, by a train of the soundest reasoning, that the price of sugar oh the continent regulating the price in this country, it could be no disadvantage to us that the sugar of Martinique should be sent here. Here the hon. member read the passage of the speech to which he had alluded. He then went on to contend, that the same argument (substituting the East Indies for Martinique) would apply to the question before the House. The sugars of the East Indies would not exclude those of the West. He would maintain, that there ought to be no restrictions on the imports of any of our colonies—that it would be an injury, as well to the colonies as to the mother country, and that therefore we ought to get rid of them altogether. It should also be recollected, that if the proposed measure gave advantages to the East-India trade which it did not possess before, there were disadvantages under which that trade still laboured, which went to counterbalance them. Ah hon. member had talked of our compact with the West 458 Indies. He would say, in reply, that if any compact existed, by which the industry, either of the colonies or of the mother country, was rendered less productive, the sooner it was got rid of the better. The argument of the hon. member for Dumfries (Mr. K. Douglas) was quite inconclusive, in supposing that we should lose a great portion of the revenue derived from our West-India produce. He did not think the proposed measure, would have any such effect, or that we should have the produce of either the West or East Indies at half their present price. He wished that could be proved; because it would render the proposition still more desirable. But he thought it was absurd to maintain, that because our West-India planters had a large capital embarked in the trade, we were therefore bound to take sugars from them at double the price which we could get them for elsewhere. Such an effect would not, however, be the result of the proposed alteration. East or West-India sugars would not be much lowered by it; but we should have this advantage from it, which would be most desirable—it would prevent sugars from rising above their value. Some gentlemen were alarmed at the idea of exporting bullion to India. For himself, he did not object to it; for bullion could not be acquired without the employment of our industry, and if a duty; was levied in one case as well as in the other, it was clear that we should not lose any part of our revenue. With respect to the employment of our ships and sailors, it was natural to conclude, that as the East Indies were further off than the West, the proposed alteration would employ more rather than fewer. As to the duty on East India sugar, it was, by their own confession, of recent date, not haying been introduced until 1814. What then, became of the ground of long possession? With respect to the effect the measure recommended would produce on the negro population, he did not see any grounds for supposing that it would be injurious. In the first place, he did not believe that we should import East-India sugar to any very considerable amount. But even were the competition to interfere with the sale of the produce of the West Indies, the condition of the slaves, if not improved, would not be injured by the change; inasmuch as the capital now employed in the production of sugar, would, under such circumstances, be converted 459 to the growth of a more beneficial, because a more remunerating commodity. In the speech of the hon. member for Sandwich, to which he before alluded, mere was a most extraordinary observation. It the more surprised him, as it was irreconcileable with the sound views entertained by the hon. member. In the speech however, it was stated, that the price of any commodity did not depend on the cost of cultivation, but on the relation of the supply to the demand. Now, nothing was more unsound. In all cases, the cost of cultivation was sure to regulate the price which any commodity must bear in, the markets of the world. As, therefore, the cost of production was acknowledged to be less in the East Indies in the production of sugar, the price of that article in the markets of the world must in the long run be regulated by that cost. There was another observation which was worthy of remark. The hon. members acknowledged, that the greatest advantage would attend a free trade; but, said they, "it is not a free trade, but a participation in the monopoly that the East-India advocates demand." Granted. He would accede to their object; though at the same rime, he was prepared to go to a much greater extent. He was ready to allow a free trade on sugar from all parts of the world where that commodity was grown. He would allow a competition not alone of East-India sugar, but of the sugars of South America, Cuba, Brazils, and China. And so would the hon. member for Sandwich, provided he was allowed to import the sugars of the West Indies with the lower rate of duties. It was, however, of those duties which prohibited all competition, that he (Mr. R.) complained; and, with the hope of modifying the evil, he would give his support to the motion.
said, it was extremely amusing to hear hon. members, proprietors of East-India stock, declaiming in that House on the advantages of a free trade, at the very moment that they themselves were interested in one of the most outrageous monopolies that ever existed in any country in the world. He should be glad to hear that some of those liberal principles had found their way into Leadenhall-street, and that that company had consented to the opening of a free trade with China; but as this was not done, he thought that those concerned ought to be silent on the subject of monopoly, of which 460 they had so much of the profits in their pockets. The hon. member who spoke last had alluded to his opinion, in 1809, respecting a free trade. There was no opinion which he then gave to which he did not still adhere; but the arguments in the case of Martinique did not apply to that before the House. He had said, that as Martinique was placed under colonial restriction, it ought to have the advantages of other colonies; and, if the East Indies were under the same restrictions, he should have no objection to their having the same advantages. He was a friend to the general principle of free trade; but he thought that considerations of our colonial trade, and the advancement of our naval power, might be very fair exceptions to the general principle. The advocates of that school would make every thing bend to their application. As in the bed of Procrustes, they would lop the limb that was too long, or stretch those that were too short to fit the abstract principle. But, in treating of the interests which were the results of a particular system of policy, there existed the necessity of making great exceptions. If our colonial system was mainly constructed with the view of supporting our naval power, that consideration formed an exception to those general principles. With respect to the immediate question, he believed the capacity of the East Indies to produce any considerable quantity; of sugar was over-rated; but what he apprehended from opening such an inquiry was, that it would lead to such an extension of the cultivation of sugar in the East Indies, as must eventually prove most injurious to the West-India interest. It was now urged upon that interest—and in the feeling he sincerely participated—that every endeavour should be made to raise the character of the negro population in the seale of society, so as eventually to fit them for the discharge of the duties of free men. If, therefore, that House pressed upon the West-India proprietors at a moment of great distress, regulations injurious to their well-being, did it not disqualify them from making those exertions for the amelioration of the condition of the negro population, which their own decisions had pronounced to be essential? The next question was, did the West-India interest possess the means? The petition which he had had the honour to present from the proprietors and planters of Trinidad, declared the existing distress to be such, 461 that on a capital of four millions invested in that colony, not one per cent. interest, on an average, had been received for the last year; nay, that even a loss had been incurrred. The truth was, that the West-India proprietors and planters had not the means of giving that efficiency to the views of parliament, either as to the moral or religious instruction of the slaves which was felt to be so desirable. Was it, then, expedient to aggravate their difficulties, and render the accomplishment of such an object more unattainable? Besides, were they not bound to look to those results which human experience suggested from the very tenure of colonial connection? When they looked to what had occurred in the former colonies of Great Britain in North America—when they reflected on what was passing in South America as to its connection with Spain, and in the Brazils as to Portugal—it would be infatuation not to perceive that in the East Indies, with a seapoy army of 150,000 men—with a vast population improving in knowledge, and knowledge was power, the materials of future independence were most prominent. If some future Hyder Ally or Tippoo Saib, with equal spirit, but with more good fortune, should seek to put an end to our unhallowed empire in the East, might we not naturally say to ourselves, that we had given them the means of annoyance by bestowing on their country all the advantages of a colonial free trade, without subjecting them to that colonial restriction to which our other dependencies had been submitted? Looking at the question; in this point of view, and at all its probable consequences to our West-India trade, he must oppose the motion.
§ Mr. Ricardo
, in explanation, observed, that he had never possessed a shilling more than 1000l. East-India stock, and never given a vote in favour of monopoly in his life.
§ Mr. Wilberforce
wished to remind the hon. gentleman who had just spoken, that the motion which he opposed did not call for any decision as to the question of equalization of duties, but was limited to the propriety of referring the subject, for examination to a committee of that House. Some members had rested their resistance to the motion, on the ground that, if, carried into effect, it would produce the ruin of the West-India colonies. To them he would say, "Establish that conclusion in an examination before the com- 462 mittee, and that will be a reason with the House for resisting the proposed equalization." As to what had been said of the injurious effects which the diminution of the price of sugar must have on the condition of the slave population, experience had proved that the reverse of the argument was the fact. When sugar bore a high price, the slaves were worked by night as well as by day. When it was diminished in value, a portion of the land was withdrawn from the cultivation of sugar, and applied to the production of provisions—a production in which the slaves had a greater interest. It was the inherent evil of the West-India system, that, from the precariousness of its profits, and the vicissitudes to which it was exposed, that attention to the more necessary part—the cultivation of provisions for its population—was neglected. In America, where the climate was unfriendly to the African negro, the slave population doubled itself in thirty years; while in the West Indies, where the climate was at least congenial, the slaves had not only not multiplied, but, with the exception of Barbadoes, actually within the same time, diminished.—The number of slaves now existing in Jamaica amounted to 345,000. Taking, then, the rate of increase as it existed in America, that amount since the year 1790, when the first step towards the abolition of the slave-trade was taken, would, in America, have increased by this time to 890,000. Did not such a fact prove that there was some radical defect in the West-India system? Had the abolition taken place earlier, could any man deny that the West-India interest would have been considerably benefitted?—Had that salutary measure been retarded, what roust have been their ruinous condition? Within the last half century one million of slaves had been imported, and yet in Jamaica, there were at present but 345,000. What a destruction of human life, and loss of capital! Much had been said of supposed pledges given to the West-India proprietors. He would ask what became of these pledges when the conquered colonies were placed on the same footing with the old islands? Had St. Domingo been conquered, as the patron of the West-India interest, the late Mr. Dundas, expected, and endeavoured to effect, would not its produce have been allowed to the home market, and on the same footing as that of the older islands? If that was undeniable, any adherence to such presumed 463 pledge was ridiculous. It was admitted, in the pamphlet of the hon. member for Sandwich, that in the course of twenty years almost all West-India property changed hands. This clearly evinced how much a matter of speculation this property was. And as it was now more than twenty years since the house had first legislated on the subject of slaves, the greater part of the property must have been bought with the knowledge of that fact. Had they not then had fair warning? This remark did not apply to the hereditary proprietor, for whom he sincerely felt; though he could not admit that the inquiry which was moved for would at all tend to injure that class of persons. He would repeat an assertion which he had formerly made—that if the whole system of the West Indies were inquired into, it would be found the roost unprofitable, to be maintained with the greatest expenditure of men and money, and after all, to be the most insecure, of any of the possessions of the Crown. The present distress in the West Indies was spoken of, as if no distress had ever before been felt there; but in the privy council reports it would be seen, that the assembly of Jamaica had stated that the interest made on all the capital invested in that island was only 4 per cent. Only 4 per cent, on capital in the West Indies! on property in islands which, in the last war but one, were captured by the enemy, and which were now exposed to a danger still greater, as all would allow who had read a proclamation recently published in that quarter of the world. The hon. gentleman concluded by giving his cordial assent to the motion for inquiry.
said, he did not rise at that late hour to trouble the House at any length on the subject, but simply to state his reasons for dissenting from the motion. He did not partake of the fears and alarms of the hon. member for Seaford, neither could he participate in the sanguine expectations of the hon. mover, if his motion were adopted. His hon. friend who spoke last had truly observed, that this was merely a motion for inquiry; and, if he could have entertained a doubt of the inconveniences which would result from going into that inquiry, the speech of his hon. friend would have satisfied him, that when once the committee should be formed, instead of the inquiry being confined to the mere commercial question respecting sugar, it would be conducted solely with a reference to the fearful and delicate sub- 464 ject of negro slavery, which, from the result of the discussion on a former night, he had conceived had been decided by the House should be left in the hands of government. He fully agreed with the hon. member for Portarlington, that so long as a surplus of West-India sugar was annually imported into this country, the price of it in the market must be regulated by the markets of the world. The East-Indians were, he was convinced, now contending for a measure which, if granted, would not alter the quantity of sugar imported; or which, if it did, would be injurious in the end to the growers of it. They had already the continent of Europe and the United States to which their sugar might be sent; and the largest export from the East Indies to all parts of the world, excluding England, in any one year was about 4,000 tons, and, including England, about 11,000 tons. But, if the East Indies possessed that power of supply, how was it that all the countries of Europe, who had no West-India colonies, but all of whom before the-French revolution possessed factories in India, never bethought themselves of drawing from India this necessary, this cheap article of sugar? But, it was notorious, that France had supplied those countries from St. Domingo; and the real fact was, that on a comparison of the prices, the supply from the East Indies would not have come any cheaper into the European market. He could not help I expressing his astonishment that the hon. mover of the question should have confined his argument so entirely to the effect of the measure upon the East Indies. He agreed with the hon. member for Portarlington that, considering the question abstractedly, and without reference to the state of things which had grown out of the colonial policy of this country for the last century—the only point worthy of notice was, where, as consumers, could we get our sugars at the cheapest rate? But, he denied that the question ought to be so abstractedly considered. It was a question to be looked at with reference to a number of complicated circumstances; and far was he from agreeing, that the House might press hard upon a West-Indian because that West-Indian happened to be an owner of slaves. That the West-Indian was an owner of slaves was not his fault, but his misfortune; and, if it was true that the production of slavery was more costly than that of free 465 labour, that would be an additional reason for not depriving him of the advantage of his protecting duty.—There were many of the statements of the hon. mover of the question, which, he was free to own, had filled him with surprise. The hon. mover had said, for instance, speaking of the hardship of not allowing a free trade—"You have destroyed, by your superior machinery, the manufacture of India in muslins; and now you actually are compelling her, although she has no mines, to pay in bullion for the cottons and other goods which she takes from you." Now this, as had been observed by the hon. member for Portarlington, was precisely the reverse of the old argument against our trade with India, when it had been complained, that we should have to pay India in specie for every thing we purchased of her. As for the advantages' expected to accrue to India in the shape of employment for her population, from the removal of the duty in question, he believed that those advantages were altogether imaginary. Supposing—what he for his own part did not believe would be the case—supposing that the removal of the protecting duty did lead to an increased production of sugar in India, still the persons who had been employed in manufacturing muslins would not turn their hands to the cultivation of sugar. Such a transfer of labour from one course of action to another would be difficult in any country; and in India the system of castes rendered it almost impossible.—Wishing the question to stand or fall upon its own peculiar merits, he had regretted to hear it mixed up, by some hon. gentlemen, with the topic of the abolition of slavery in our West Indies; but, since that abolition was a point so much at heart, and a point which, according to some hon. gentlemen, the present measure was to assist in attaining, he could not help observing, that the article of cotton, which the hon. mover looked to sending so freely into the East Indies, and from the circulation of which in that country he promised so much advantage to the Manchester traders—every ounce of it was produced by the labour of slaves in the United States or in the Brasils; and the demand for it was one main cause why the slave trade still existed upon the latter station in so dreadful a degree.—He did contend, and he thought the fact was clear, that whatever effect the reduction of duty might have upon the East Indies, 466 it would have no operation upon the price of sugar, as regarded the consumer in this country. As long as—whether from the East Indies or West—we had a surplus of sugar, the price in the market of England must be regulated by the prices in the general market of the world. Whether the East-India sugar came to this country, or went at once to the continent, was a matter of no importance to the home consumer as long as there was a surplus of production.—The right hon. gentleman then went into a comparative statement of the quantities of sugar produced by the old colonies in the year 1789, and at the present time; and also into an account of the consumption of this country at the same periods. The produce of sugar in the old colonies—those ceded to England before the year 1763—had been 90,000 tons in the year 1789; and the home consumption in the same year had been 70,000 tons. The present production of those same colonies was 140,000 tons a year; and the consumption of England now was 140,000 tons. If we had retained only the old colonies, therefore, our supply at the present moment would just have equalled our demand. If we were to admit sugar from the East Indies free, we might upon the same principle admit it free from all the world; but he still denied that the abatement of duty would bring any considerable additional supply of sugar from the East Indies. Bengal, at the present time, imported more sugar from China and from Java, than she sent to Europe. Much of the sugar, almost all indeed, which now came from the East Indies, came free of freight. It came as ballast to vessels. But, if, once we were to look to any thing like a considerable supply, we must freight ships with the article in a regular way; and thus a considerable addition would be made to the price. The right hon. member concluded by stating that he was willing to take off the duty of 5s. which had been laid two years ago upon a particular sort of sugar coming from the East Indies which was thought to be equal to the clayed sugar of the West Indies. Considerable difficulty was found in appreciating this particular sugar. The best judges were often unable to say whether it was a clayed sugar, or not. To obviate the inconvenience which the East-India planters suffered from having to send their sugars sometimes to this country, uncertain whether the protecting duty charged upon 467 them would be ten shillings or fifteen, he was disposed to do away with that extra five shilling duty altogether; and should sit down, after that statement, by negativing the motion.
strongly advocated the cause of the East-India sugar grower. He asked, whether the present president of the Board of Control had not stated to the late chairman of the court of directors, that it was the intention of ministers to sanction the appointment of a committee, to inquire into the whole question of the sugar duties? He saw more clearly than ever, that the West-India interest in that House was paramount to every other.
said, that being called on in this distinct manner, it was necessary for him to say a few words. He wished his hon. friend had given him an intimation that he meant to make the reference he had done, because he would then have recurred to the note which he had written to the late chairman of the East-India company. He must now observe, that he distinctly understood, when the late chancellor of the exchequer had spoken of a committee, that that committee was only to inquire into the additional duty of 15s. on clayed sugars, and not to touch on the question of the ordinary duty of ten shillings.
§ The House divided: Ayes 34, Noes 161.
|List of the Minority.|
|Astell, W.||Maberly, J.|
|Alexander, J.||Maberly, W. L.|
|Alexander, J. D.||Marjoribanks, S.|
|Baillie, col. J.||Martin, J.|
|Baring, sir T.||Money, W. T.|
|Bentinck, lord W.||Munday, F.|
|Browne, Dom.||Pitt, J.|
|Calthorpe, hon. F. G.||Porcher, H.|
|Cole, sir C.||Ricardo, D.|
|Corbett, P.||Smith, R.|
|Downie, R.||Smith, W.|
|Evans, W.||Stanley, lord|
|Forbes, C.||Wigram, W.|
|Grant, right hon. C.||Wilberforce, W.|
|Hume, J.||Wells, J.|
|Kech, G. A. L.||TELLERS.|
|Kemp, T. R.||Whitmore, W.|
|Lindsay, hon. H.||Buxton, T. F.|