§ Mr. Calcraft
rose to bring forward his motion respecting the Salt Duties, of which he had given repeated notices, but the consideration of which a variety of untoward circumstances had hitherto conspired to delay. He was happy to say, that it did not appear to him to be necessary to trouble the House at any great length on the present occasion; for, as far as he could collect the general sentiment from a conversation with a number of persons both within and without doors, there seemed but little difference of opinion on the principle of his proposition. All seemed to concur in the propriety of taking into consideration the great and grievous duties on salt, and of endeavouring to discover some remedy for the inconveniencies and evils which arose from them. Even those who would*1317 perhaps not go so far as to concur with him in voting for the appointment of a committee to consider the subject, grounded their dissent (as far as he was able to understand them), not on any different opinion which they entertained with respect to the principle of such a proceeding, but from the great inconvenience and difficulty, and, and as some asserted, from the impossibility, of finding a fair and just commutation for the duties, which, in his opinion, ought to be repealed. If he were to judge of the interest which this question excited in the public mind, from the very extensive and well-informed correspondence to which his notice of it had given rise, he would say, that, as far as his parliamentary experience went, he had never known a subject of such a nature deemed of so much importance; or on which expectation was so eager, and conviction so complete. Among many reasons for regretting the postponement of its consideration, he regretted it on that account. He also much regretted the postponement on another ground. It appeared that the salt duties had fallen short of their usual amount in the last quarter, and this defalcation had been attributed to him as the agitator of the present question. Unquestionably he should much regret, under the existing circumstances of public difficulty, were he instrumental to any serious loss to the revenue; but he rather thought it would be found that it had been occasioned by the conviction impressed on the minds of most people, a conviction which afforded him much gratification, that some amelioration of the present system in this respect had become indispensable. Whatever might be the cause, however, the fact, as exhibited in the public accounts, was, that the salt duties of the last quarter had fallen 80,000l. short of the amount of the corresponding quarter of the last year.
With respect to the proposition which he was about to submit to the House, it was founded on the proceeding of 1801. He was then in parliament, and he remembered that the formation of the committee of that period was proposed by the then chancellor of the exchequer of an administration, in which the right hon. gentleman opposite held a conspicuous and important situation. That right hon. gentleman, with the whole House, concurred in the proposition made by the chancellor of the exchequer. For his own part, he never recollected any motion that ap- 1318 peared more generally gratifying than that to which he alluded, made by Mr. Addington, for the appointment of a committee to inquire into the laws relating to the salt duties. It was incumbent, therefore, on those who might oppose the present proposition, to show that the circumstances were different with respect to this tax now and in 1801. He would say one word with respect to an extraordinary misconception that had taken place of his intentions. It had gone forth that he meant to propose in lieu of the salt duties a commutation in the shape of the property tax. He had been told of this rumour by several hon. members. Now, the fact was, that the property tax was the last thing in the world, the revival of which he should ever think of proposing. He could conceive no state of affairs during peace that could tempt him to consent to the renewal of that tax, or of any part of it. He had little doubt that the report of his having it in contemplation to make such a proposition was circulated merely to injure the cause which he had undertaken. So far was he from intending to propose the property tax as a commutation for the salt duties, that he did not mean to suggest to the House any commutation at all. He certainly had it once in his contemplation to recommend a commutation. But he felt that a proposition of that nature would necessarily create so many difficulties in the preliminary step of the proceeding, that he was induced to forego it. He would therefore not propose any commutation whatever to the House. It would be a fit subject for the deliberation of a committee, in which alone it could be fairly and fully considered.
It was a singular fact, that during the necessary, but unfortunate postponement of the present discussion, some of those who were friendly to the cause which he was advocating, had instituted, or rather obtained, an inquiry before the board of trade. This was certainly somewhat singular, when a notice of a motion on the subject had been given by a member of that House. He did not at all mean to say, that this proceeding was intended in hostility to his motion, but certainly it was rather an unusual measure. He hoped, however, that the result of the inquiry had been, to convince the right hon. gentleman, that that which he thought right and deserving of approbation in 1801, was right and deserving of approbation in 1817. 1319 Every body in that House knew, and every body in the country felt, the enormous amount of the tax upon salt. It was, at the present moment, no less than 15s. a bushel. The prime cost of a bushel of salt was 6d. The duty, therefore, as compared with the original value of the article, was as thirty to one. In other words, a hundred pounds worth of salt paid three thousand pounds duty! When the House considered that salt was a raw material— that it was mixed up with the necessaries of life—in all that constituted the subsistence of an individual in the humbler walk of society—his butter, his cheese, his bacon, his fish, even his bread (although, certainly, in the last-mentioned article, it formed no very considerable portion of the expense, being only about a farthing in the quartern loaf),they would surely feel the necessity of some consideration of the subject. On that statement alone, the tax must be admitted to be most impolitic and grievous. The direct operation of the tax on the lower and middling orders was very severe. It acted as a kind of income tax on the wages of labour. It might be said by some, that to the labourer this was of no importance, as he would levy it on those who employed him, by increasing his wages. This he denied. It was not the price of the articles of subsistence which regulated the amount of the wages of the labourer. It was the redundant population, the diminished trade, and the consequent competition of labourers, by which it was regulated; and this competition had actually so reduced the amount of wages, that even those who were employed, were unable, in a great degree, to maintain themselves without parochial assistance. It was, therefore, most material to reduce the necessaries of life as much as possible, in order to enable the lower classes of the community to procure wholesome and sufficient subsistence. He held in his hand the report which was the result of the appointment of the committee in 1801. He believed the right hon. gentleman opposite was on that committee; and he was sure that the right hon. gentleman would admit that the report was conclusive on the subject. He would read to the House a few short extracts:—The committee stated, "that though, from the shortness of the time which they had occupied in the consideration of the question, they were unable to offer to the House any permanent arrangement with respect to it, they felt 1320 indispensably bound to observe, that all their inquiries tended to impress them with the difficulty, not to say the impossibility, of reconciling the collection of any considerable revenue from a duty on salt, with the advantages to be derived from an unrestrained trade in that article, and an unlimited use of it." The report then adverted to a passage in a report made by a former committee on the herring fishery, which was to the following effect:—"That the committee could not refrain from stating the very great difficulties and inconveniencies which the fisheries laboured under from the restraints imposed, and ineffectually imposed, for the protection of the revenue derived from the salt duty. The committee referred to the evidence of several fish salesmen, who declared, that it was the constant practice of the trade to pay duty for the salt which they used, as less burthensome than a compliance with those regulations, by an attention to which alone they could obtain the salt duty free." Could there be a greater absurdity? The legislature had, it appeared, so fettered and clogged their exemptions from the duty with regulations, that the persons engaged in the fisheries chose rather to pay the duty itself, heavy as it was, than incur the difficulties and risk attendant on that compliance with the regulations which was requisite to comprehend them in the exemption. The report proceeded—"No inconsiderable part of the supply of fish intended for the London markets had hitherto been destroyed in consequence of this circumstance." Throughout the whole report of the committee of 1801, the same sentiment was manifested. The observations which applied to the salt used in curing fish, was applicable to salt used for all other purposes. In agriculture salt was so taxed, that it could not be used; and wherever there was a remission, that remission was clogged by so many regulations, as to render it wholly unavailing. The report of the committee of 1801, after enumerating the advantages which would result from the abolition of the salt duties, "in cheapening the subsistence of the people, in diminishing the expense of the naval and military establishments of the country, in giving encouragement to agriculture, and all the useful arts," proceeded to observe, "that it might be imprudent suddenly to cut off so large a branch of the revenue, in the midst of an arduous and expensive war; but that, in 1321 their opinion, the salt duties were detrimental to the public interests in a degree far exceeding the benefit derived from the receipt at the Exchequer; and that, as the preceding year (1800) manifested the powerful resources which the country yet possessed, the committee hoped the abolition of the tax might be accomplished."
Such was the conclusion of the committee of 1801, after a full view of the whole subject. All he now asked was, for an inquiry into it. All that he expected, as the result of that inquiry during the present session, was an exposition of the case. He by no means wanted to press on the House, any thing so inconvenient to the public service as the loss of revenue which the immediate repeal of the salt duties must occasion; unless in the committee some acceptable commutation could be pointed out, he was quite aware of the extent of the produce of the duties. Their present annual produce was about 1,500,000l. That was certainly a very important sum. But he wished to be allowed to show, that if means could be contrived to part with, at any rate, a portion of the duties, the advantages would amply compensate for the sacrifice. The benefits which the fisheries, the benefits which manufactures, the benefits which commerce, the benefits which agriculture would derive from an abolition or a reduction of the salt duties, were so great, that he really and conscientiously believed, that any measure of that nature would lay the foundation of sources of national prosperity and wealth, that directly, and in their consequences, would infinitely more than repay any temporary diminution which the revenue might experience from its adoption. There was, besides, this farther consideration, that really, after all, the struggles which had been made, and all the inconveniencies which the middle and lower classes had suffered and were suffering, they were entitled to some boon from the hands of the legislature, which would come home to their cottages and their hearts. There was no one who would not feel the benefit of the repeal of the salt duties in his direct expenditure; and, looking at the subject in every point of view, he was persuaded that it would be the most acceptable boon that could be conferred on the people.
The only difficulty he felt in arguing the question was, that he had nothing to argue against. He knew of no single objection that could be made to the propo- 1322 sition, but that the state could not afford to part, with so large a portion of its revenue. That was no bar, however, to an inquiry on the subject, in order that the whole case might be thoroughly understood. He could not conceive a single plausible argument against the appointment of a committee, such as that moved for and triumphantly carried by Mr. Addington. There was no change in the circumstances, except, indeed, that he had not the good fortune to be chancellor of the exchequer, and Mr. Addington had. He had been asked that day, if the case would not be prejudiced by its being moved by a member of the opposition? That remark certainly came very late. His reply was, that he hoped not. It was not a political question in any sense of the expression. He had also been asked, why he, who had no immediate interest in the subject—who had unfortunately no mines, no springs, no connexion with the counties principally concerned—should undertake the business? In that view, however, he was the properest person to do so. He could not be suspected of any undue motives. He should derive no advantage from the decision of the legislature, let it be what it might. In the various documents which he had read with reference to this subject, he had happened to meet with a pamphlet, written in 1769 by Mr. Burke, and, like every thing which had proceeded from Mr. Burke's pen, full of information of every kind. In that pamphlet, Mr. Burke, as a consolatory view of the state of this country, compared with the state of France, boasted, that in England the poor could buy salt for two-pence farthing a pound, while, in France, it could not be procured for less than five-pence a pound. It happened very oddly, that this state of things, the existence of which in a rival kingdom Mr. Burke pointed out as affording, by comparison, a cause for exultation in this country, was precisely the existing state in Great Britain at present. The present price of salt in this country was just five-pence a pound. He mentioned this circumstance because it appeared, that even a mind such as that of Mr. Burke's, in the extensive and luminous view which it took of the sources of national prosperity, considered the price of salt as a matter of primary importance to the great mass of a population.
It was a strange fact, that four years after the report of the committee of 1801 1323 was made and circulated, a material Increase of the duties on salt took place. This circumstance could not help calling the recollection of the House to the many dormant recommendations on their books, which slept until wakened perhaps by curiosity, and then relapsed into sleep, until some busy and officious hand once more disturbed their slumbers. The reflection, however, that only four years after the solemn declaration of a committee of that House, in hostility to the duties, those duties were actually raised, tended more strongly to convince him, that unless some step were now taken, a farther increase would be proposed whenever an apparent necessity for it should be made out. He hoped, that during the present interval from war, recourse would be had to such a system of policy, as might be calculated to augment our resources, by diminishing those burthens which pressed most heavily on the lower and labouring classes of the community. The salt duties, when first imposed, which was in the reign of William and Mary, were declared to be temporary. The duty was then three halfpence a gallon. Four or five years afterwards, they were increased to threepence a gallon. It was not until the reign of George the 2d that they were made perpetual. They then got up to eight-pence a gallon, or five shillings a bushel. In the 38th of George the 3d, the duties were increased by Mr. Pitt to ten shillings a bushel. The subject was then much canvassed in the House, and the increase was strenuously opposed by sir William Pulteney. Mr. Pitt himself said, that whenever peace came, the repeal of the tax might be a fit subject for consideration.— [The chancellor of the exchequer, across the table, negatived this assertion.]—Well, that was of no consequence. The increase took place; and in the 45th of George the 3d, four years after, and in the very teeth of the report of the committee of 1801, moved by the chancellor of the exchequer, who characterized the duties as most injurious to the national interests, they were farther increased to fifteen shillings a bushel, at which rate they stood to the present moment.
In addition to the inexpediency of taxing a raw material, which was the worst subject that a finance minister could select for the operation of a duty, impeding as it did the progress of all the manufactures of which that raw material formed a component part—was the consideration of the 1324 great expense attendant on the collection of the salt duties. He understood that in one town in Cheshire there was a little army of excise officers, continually watching the issue of salt from the rock salt-pits. That in itself was a considerable objection to the continuance of the duties. But the most curious and interesting view of the subject was that which related to scientific objects. He was not chemist enough to speak with sufficient explicitness on this point. It could not be denied, however, that if individuals engaged in chemical pursuits were enabled to make a free and untaxed use of salt, they would urge the manufactures with which it was connected to an extent so considerable, as most materially to benefit the public revenue, and increase the public prosperity. It was most unwise to tax these establishments in their infancy, although, when they should arrive at maturity, they might afford, without prejudice to themselves, a most valuable aid to the finances of the country. But on this subject Mr. Parkes, a very able chemist, had published a treatise, half an hour's perusal of which would put hon. members in possession of more information on the subject than if he (Mr. Calcraft) were to talk to them about it from that time to the next morning. With respect to the advantages of salt as a manure, he confessed that having seen but one conclusive experiment of its use on arable land, he had not been able to make up his mind as to its value in tillage. Much higher authorities than he, however, decidedly thought it advantageous. On grass lands it was certainly beneficial; it preserved the hay in such wet summers as the last, and rendered that palatable and nutritious to cattle, which must otherwise have been thrown on the dunghill. In many manufactures, besides those to which he had already adverted, the free use of salt would be highly serviceable. As to the fisheries, no man could entertain any doubt on the subject. It was most preposterous that, situated as we were in an island, surrounded by the sea, we neglected to take advantage of the element which girded us, and suffered foreigners to come on our coasts, and catch the fish, which, after they had cured it in their own harbours, we purchased. So fettered were our fishermen by the regulations connected with the salt duties, that they either abstained from using salt altogether, or paid the duty on it rather than undergo all the annoyance of attend- 1325 ing those regulations. They, therefore, either caught no fish, or were induced to throw the greater part of that which they caught overboard. These were monstrous things. They were not to be tolerated. Revenue was not to be put in ^competition with the advantages thus abandoned, unless by those who were disposed to exclaim—"Live Revenue! Perish Agriculture! Perish Commerce! Perish the Fisheries 1 Perish every thing else!" But the fact was, that the revenue would be found eventually to depend on the conservation of all these. If events took the course which in his apprehension they must take, he, in the proposition which he wished to submit to the House, would be laying the foundation of revenue, instead of destroying it; and of a revenue infinitely larger than could be produced by the present grievous and oppressive tax. He was not aware that it was necessary for him to trouble the House with any thing more. If, in the course of the debate, any new matter should be started, he would avail himself of his privilege to reply to it. At present he would content himself with moving, "That a select committee be appointed to inquire into the laws relating to the Salt Duties, and the means of remedying the inconveniences arising there from; and to report the same, with their opinion thereupon, from time to time to the House."
§ Mr. Davenport
seconded the motion, declaring that the experience which he had had of them in Cheshire convinced him that no laws stood more in need of revision. If, without any material injury to the revenue, the salt duties could be totally abolished, it would be the best policy that the country could pursue, and would essentially contribute to the welfare of the lower classes of the community. On this subject it appeared to him that there could be but one opinion. The more the subject was investigated, the more it would appear that those duties originated in a blind and narrow-minded policy. Had they never been imposed, an invaluable mass of prosperity might have been created; compared with which, the sum derived from them to the revenue was contemptible. He was aware of the difficulty of making up that deficiency in the revenue which their repeal would occasion. He admitted that he did not think they could at present be wholly repealed. But the subject ought to be fairly investigated by a committee, to ascertain what could 1326 and what could not be done. The salt trade laboured under many hardships and disadvantages. Among them was the use of foreign salt in this country. Many petitions had been presented to government for a prohibition, or at least a protecting duty. Hitherto, however, they had been, unattended to. These matters were better managed in other countries. When an application was made by lord Clancarty to the government of the Netherlands, to allow the importation of British salt, it was refused, that government declaring that they were themselves manufacturers of the same material.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
assured the House that he should willingly assent to any proposition, the effect of which might be to lay the amplest information on this important subject before the House, if he thought the inquiry would be attended with no practical inconvenience to the public interest; but the hon. gentleman had himself stated, at the outset of his speech, his belief of the fact, that the agitation of this question had already caused a deficiency in the receipt of the revenue amounting to no less than 80,000l. This statement was perfectly accurate; a stagnation of the trade had taken place in consequence of the supposed intention on the part of parliament to make some alteration in the existing duties. He was acquainted with one very large dealer, who alone had paid 20,000l. less of duties than ordinarily, from the suspension or revocation of his accustomed orders. Under these circumstances, he thought the House would do wisely to suspend any proceeding on the subject. Before the motion could be agreed to, the hon. mover was, in his opinion, bound to show, either that the revenue could dispense with such a sum as the repeal of the salt duties would withdraw from it, or that an adequate substitute could be found for them. Great difficulties always attended any change in the mode of taxation. When a tax had been long imposed, even its evils were borne with greater patience than the less inconveniences of a new impost. The salt duties were as old as the revolution. In the reign of queen Anne, they amounted to 3s. 4d. a bushel; a considerable sum when the different value of money at that period was considered. In 1730 they were entirely repealed. But so little was the public feeling of that day in hostility to the duties, that although in time of peace, they were renewed three years 1327 after. Considering the alteration in the prices of most articles of consumption, that which in 1779, when Mr. Burke wrote the pamphlet adverted to by the hon. gentleman was sold for two-pence halfpenny, might very fairly in proportion to the rise on other things have risen to five-pence. With respect to the advantages likely to accrue to the fisheries from taking off the duty on salt, he had to answer that a bill was at present before the House to allow rock salt to be used in the curing of fish, without the payment of any duty; and in the opinion of those persons who were likely to be best informed on the subject, this bill would afford all the relief to the fisheries which was wanted. If the House would look into the subject, they would see that several facilities had already been at different times given to the fisheries. It could not certainly be said that the duty on salt used in the internal consumption of the country was at present felt to be peculiarly oppressive. The price of salt was at present 5d. a pound, while more than a century ago, in the reign of queen Anne, it was 2½d. The former sum was not comparatively more at the present period, than the latter was in the reign of queen Anne. Indulgences were now granted which at that period were not allowed. It had been said that salt might be used as a manure, but on this point there were great differences of opinion. An exemption from duty might perhaps be allowed to salt employed as a manure. He was not sure too that some indulgence might not also be extended to salt applied to the food of cattle. With respect to the benefit which would result to the manufacturers of salt from taking off the duty; he had only to state, that he had the best reason for believing that the manufacturers did not consider that they would be benefitted by any such measure. He held a paper in his hands, which contained the sentiments of some of the most considerable salt manufacturers in the kingdom. It was signed by Messrs Broughton and Co. Messrs. Sutton and Co. &c. the principal proprietors of salt works in the county of Chester, and stated, that they understood that a measure was about to be submitted to the House of Commons, by the member for Rochester, for a reduction of the duty on salt, and that they were of opinion that this measure would be injurious to their interests, and disadvantageous to the public treasury as well as to individuals, who would thereby be tempted to embark their 1328 capital in a trade already too much overstocked both with hands and capital for the present consumption. He also thought the preparation of mineral alkali, in the quantity that might thus be procured, would probably much discourage the making of kelp on the coast and islands of Scotland, which formed a considerable part of their support. Under all circumstances, it appeared to him that it would be proper to postpone the consideration of this subject, at least till the effect of the bill before the House for the exemption of rock salt from duty could be ascertained, and therefore he should think it his duty to conclude with moving the previous question.
§ Mr. Tremayne
said, he should cheerfully give his vote in favour of the motion. He could state to the House, that all the persons engaged in fisheries in the West of England, considered the bill now before the House as seriously detrimental to them, and that it would have the effect of driving out of the fisheries a great number of persons at present engaged in them. An hon. member opposite had recommended a rigorous prohibition of foreign salt, but he could not help desiring gentlemen not to make up their minds on this subject, till it should be canvassed in the committee, for it was the opinion of persons engaged in the fisheries that foreign salt was the best for them, and that rock salt would be of no use whatever. If the House should persist in this system of excluding all foreign commodities, they would injure very severely the most of our manufactures.
§ Mr. Speaker
;—Hard indeed must the right hon. the chancellor of the exchequer be pressed for arguments to defend this odious and oppressive tax, when he can be induced to offer to the House a representation from a few interested individuals in favour of the continuance of this their monopoly. I verily believe, were the question fairly gone into, there would not be found a single advocate for the salt-tax, with the exception of such as profited by it. These no arguments will convince— no sufferings—no advantage to the public, incite to the relinquishment of their monopoly. Few questions of more vital importance, or more calculated to excite feeling or interest in the public mind, could have been brought before this House. The comforts of a large portion of the community, as well as the future prosperity of the 1329 empire, are involved in one decision. Ably has the subject been treated by my hon. friend the moment be has selected for bringing the matter forward is peculiarly appropriate—it intimately connects itself with the present distresses of the country, and is closely allied to objects most calculated to administer material relief.
Fully to comprehend the importance of our internal resources, requires that we should have distinctly within our view the existing situation of the continent of Europe. It is most fortunate, therefore, that the able detail of a learned member (Mr. Brougham) on our foreign commerce is so fresh in the memory of the House. The masterly manner in which the causes of our distress were traced by him cannot easily be forgotten. The impolicy of our commercial system seems admitted on all sides; whilst the difficulties attending its correction appears the only argument against going into a committee to seek for the means of redressing them. How far this is wise or politic it is not now for us to inquire. I trust, however, it will not afford a precedent for treating in the same manner what relates to our internal resources. Our domestic policy, which we alone can control, will not, I believe, be found to have been directed with more political wisdom than our external commerce. Whenever a difficulty arose, the remedy has been an act of the legislature, founded on the immediate interest of the party aggrieved, without taking into our consideration the operation of the measure on our commercial relations at large. The failure of our foreign trade renders our internal resources of still more vital consequence. It is most important for us to consider the causes operating on our manufactures: should these be found to arise from circumstances over which we have no control, the only course from which we can hope a remedy is by adopting such measures as can draw forth the internal riches of the country, and thereby call into activity that part of our population which is now employed in eating the bread they do not earn. Too long we have pursued a policy the very reverse of the general order of nature. Instead of viewing those objects which are nearest as most important, we have diminished or overlooked them; whilst we have magnified others at a distance. We shall now be compelled to retrace our steps, and to place our prosperity where alone it can be securely rested.
1330 In estimating the resources of our own country, it behoves us well to weigh what is passing in Europe. Prohibitions and protecting duties, whilst they have drawn a rampart round us for the exclusion of foreign articles of production, have accelerated the non-importation of our manufactures into the different states of Europe. The changes that will naturally follow from the new character that the continent is about to assume, must most materially operate on the future state of the country. Hence it is important for us well to weigh, in order to determine, the most prudent course for us to pursue.—In order more clearly to explain myself, I must beg the indulgence of the House in saying a few words on this subject, which I conceive to be most materially connected with the matter before us. The operation of the system of exclusion, which we now so severely feel, ought to have been foreseen, and provided for, years before this. We should have been apprized that its failure, when attempted by Buonaparté, proceeded from the inability of the continent at that time to do without our manufactories. The despotism so long exercised in every quarter of Europe had, in a great measure, destroyed commerce and annihilated its manufactures. Trade may aptly be compared to the most timid of animals; when once affrighted it flies to seek a more secure retreat. This happy country alone offered that security. The calamities of Europe gave us the trade of the world. Unfortunately we have contemplated as permanent what we ought to have considered as a temporary advantage. Dearly has it been purchased. What we gained we have spent in fighting the battles of other nations. The exertions we have made, whilst they astonished Europe, confirmed all ranks in a unity of sentiment on the advantages of trade—and predisposed every country on the continent to become manufactural on the first opportunity that was offered them. Can or ought we to blame them! It does not justify the supposition, that it proceeds from hostility to this country. It is only a laudable regard to their own interests. Peace, which has augmented the prosperity of other nations has operated directly the reverse with regard to us. We may date the manufacturing era of this country to have commenced in 1760, and to have been brought to perfection in 50 years. On the continent the birth and perfection of manufac- 1331 tories will be almost co-equal—they start with all the science and acquirement which we had gained. We are not, therefore, to reckon on our supposed superiority, but at once to view this trade, to a large amount, as escaped from us, and not likely to return.—Viewing the distress this has occasioned to thousands, I cannot but deeply regret it. It would, however, be unbecoming of a great nation to wish to build its own prosperity on the sufferings and privations of other countries. Referring to the transactions of the last century, I cannot help auguring a happy change as likely to take place from the alterations that will result to mankind at large from the new-born spirit of commerce and manufactories—a love of peace will be universally diffused. The riches that will result from this augmented industry will engender a spirit of independence, and give birth to liberty, and be the means of removing those fetters which despotism seems, from the transactions of the last twenty years, to have rivetted more strongly. For the period of seventy years after the revolution we were an agricultural nation, exporting above two millions of grain annually. With this reign commenced a different system, and every thing has been sacrificed to manufactures and commerce. The transition from an agricultural to a manufactural one is easy. Increase of wages, and the flattering hopes of advancement, transfer the service from one to the other with great facility—and with an appearance of increasing prosperity. To retrace our steps is not so easy, and must cost much suffering to many. Luxuries must with thousands be exchanged for a scanty supply of necessaries—many cannot be employed, and must be a consuming weight on the industry of the country. Great as the difficulties are, they must be met—and can only be lessened by availing ourselves of every internal source of wealth. I cannot concur in blaming ministers for not attempting to form commercial alliances—I firmly believe it was out of their power.— When trade is left to itself, which is the greatest favour that can be done it, the spirit and interest of individuals will not fail to push it on as far as it is possible. To obtain favours,—an equivalent must be given. Here the restrictions and monopolies we have established bind tip the hands of the government:—we have just seen a notable instance of the effect and influence of monopoly. Where I 1332 blame ministers is, they did not sooner foresee the changes that must happen—that they did not advert to our having created an internal capital of four millions, by an augmented produce of grain— which must in consequence diminish our manufactories, by which it was purchased, to that amount—our demand for grain ceasing, so must their ability to purchase our fabrics.—Trade can exist in no country beyond its surplus labour and productions; and is equally beneficial to the amount of its extent to all. The criterion by which the comparative advantage of any branch of trade is to be judged of, I hold to be the greater or less quantity of labour which was comprised in it. The first object of every state must be to find full employment for its population—as we become less customers to the continent, so will they have less power of taking our manufactures.
In ceasing to manufacture to so great an extent, a large portion of our population must be constrained to relinquish many of the luxuries they enjoyed:— time will, it is to be hoped, reconcile us to this, provided employment can only be found for the whole of our population. The decided bias of our policy in favour of trade and manufactures, during the whole of this reign, has contributed to a great augmentation of population—causing a much larger consumption of food, arising from the advance of wages. Thus the individuals who, whilst employed in agriculture, were supported on the produce of three acres, when their wages were doubled, demanded six. This is strongly demonstrated by the sudden change which took place between the years 1760 and 1766. At the former period we exported two millions of grain—in the course of six years we became an importing country of grain.—Now, Sir, if we suppose a million of people in that period to have been transferred from agriculture to various branches of manufacture, we have a rational solution of this sudden change in our situation. The increase of population for 70 years, from the revolution, did not exceed two millions, whereas the increase of the last fifty years has been five millions. I conceive I am fully warranted in assuming as a fact, that manufactories, from their higher scale of wages, augment population, and the consumption of victual, whilst they have a tendency to decrease the production of food. The result I should draw from this 1333 would be, first, the quality of our food must be changed. Great Britain has consumed perhaps nearly five times as much animal food as any other country in Europe. With decreased earnings this cannot be afforded. It becomes, therefore, a most important object to consider, whether a cheaper diet, and one equally palatable and nutricious, can be found. The next question would be to apply the results that has arisen from our manufactural system to Europe at large. In Great Britain every fourth individual was a manufacturer—this occasioned us to consume one fifth more food than would have fed an agricultural population. Supposing the continent to employ but one man in eight in manufactures, it will augment the demand for food one seventh—and this without any reference to an increase of population which with us has advanced above two-thirds in fifty years. Let me ask therefore, is there not the strongest grounds for supposing that Europe will require and be disposed to take from us any surplus food that we may be able to spare them. I humbly conceive the fairest prospects are held out to us, that we may become the great, mart of food for Europe—and thus establish an intercourse equally profitable to all parties.
I shall now proceed to show the importance of salt in the fabrication of food—and as a means of calling a large portion of our people into activity. The most profitable source of trade in any country is that which arises out of labour. No trade can so completely answer this description as the fisheries—where two-thirds of the value arises out of labour. Dr. Franklin describes it as a mine from whence every fish that is drawn brings with it a piece of silver. To estimate the riches which might be obtained from the ocean, I would propose to divide the empire into five parts;—Great Britain I should call two; Scotland and Ireland would make four; the fifth would be a line drawn of the breadth of ten miles) round our coast, (comprising somewhat more than 2,800 miles). Within this space we should have eighteen millions of acres. This aquatic property, the exclusive inheritance of industry, is capable of being made to produce an income little short of the average of any of the other four quarters of our empire. To this estate belongs very striking and characteristic properties. It is the element to which the prejudices and pride of Englishmen are particularly di-§1334 rected:—it promotes the glory whilst it exempts us from the ravages of war—and if properly attended to, would at all times insure us an abundance of food. The fructification claims nothing from man, but rests in the hands of Providence. It is exempt from those casualties which so frequently defeat the husbandman's hopes. The vicissitudes of seasons do not affect it—it fails not to reward industry. With such a source of riches within the daily view of so large a portion of our population, how have we availed ourselves of it? Will the House credit it when I state, that I do not believe it yields us one million and a half, employing about sixty thousand hands. To what extent might this be carried? Am I too sanguine in supposing a pound an acre might be drawn from our seas; and instead of its employing sixty or seventy thousand, find occupation for half a million of persons?—thus not only adding to our security, but augmenting our riches beyond all other trades that we ever possessed.
Fortunately I have something more substantial than conjecture to offer on this head. On what was founded the power and wealth of Holland? The fishery was the source of her greatness, which made her so formidable a rival. The Dutch are supposed to draw from the sea ten millions of fish, employing one-fifth of their male population. This amounts to about 12s. 6d. per acre, whilst we make but one and sixpence. To reap the full extent of these advantages, the aid of capital might be required, to what amount I will not pretend to say. Could the fostering hand of government be better employed? We have half a million or more of our population unemployed, costing the nation between four and five millions per annum to support them. In order to enable us to carry our fish to foreign markets, it would be good policy to throw any part of this sum in bounties that would hold out a temptation to engage these persons in the fisheries and secure them a livelihood from their own industry. To suffer so large a part of our population to remain unemployed, must be ruin to us. Some means must be devised of calling them into activity. Is there any thing that offers equal facilities as our fisheries? I do not go the whole length with a noble lord, that I would occupy the people in digging holes and filling them up; but I would make any sacrifice for usefully employing them. That the vexations and restrictions imposed by the salt 1335 duties have materially operated to the disadvantage of our fisheries will not be denied; nor can you give that free use of salt that would be requisite, without in a great degree destroying the revenue that is produced from it. This alone would be a powerful argument for a commutation, if there were not other interests that suffer to an enormous amount.
Now, Sir, before I proceed to other branches of this question, let me call the attention of the House to consider the importance of this trade, as contrasted with our foreign commerce and other domestic sources of riches. The average of our exports for the last four years amounts to 38 millions. Admitting half of this to be confined to Europe, and that out of the 19 millions one half of it was lost for ever. That we had ceased to export ten millions of manufactures, I would ask whether there is not the greatest probability that we might indemnify ourselves from our fisheries? How would they stand compared to our staple productions? Iron and coalmines are supposed to produce fifteen millions each, wool eight millions, and salt about a million. It is difficult to assign any satisfactory reason to account for so enlightened a country as Great Britain shutting her eyes on the destructive effects of a tax which at once cramped her industry, and cut off a general source of food. Salt seems to have been an object of taxation in all countries. In early times the necessaries of life offered the only source on which a revenue could be raised. This is some apology for the commencement of such a tax, but none for its continuance. Justice and good policy have long demanded the repeal of this odious and unjust tax. Woeful experience has fully taught us the advantage of direct taxation, as the most beneficial to all parties. It is no longer necessary to gild the pill to make us swallow it. A proposition to tax the plough would be universally scouted, and destructive of our resources in the bud. After bread, salt is one of the first necessaries of life; its use is indispensable. Was it now a question of imposing this tax for the first time, it would be considered as little less preposterous, than if one of those numerous speculators, who used to crowd our doors, were to propose to the chancellor of the exchequer to employ the exhaustless mines of Cumberland and Westmoreland in covering the solar system to tax light and sunshine. If the common sense of mankind, at this time of day, would so re- 1336 volt at such a tax as that on salt, it affords a strong argument of its impolicy and injustice. The ingenuity of man seems to have been opposed to the bounty of Providence, in devising means to cut off and defeat the unbounded source of comfort and riches we possess from our salt mines. Had the mighty stream been left to pursue its own course, it would have diffused industry and comfort over the whole empire. Our insular situation gives great facilities not only to the taking but disposing of the fish. Ireland, above all countries, possesses facilities for carrying on the fishing trade. Here is the point on which you can most materially benefit her, and give activity to her population. The prosecution of this trade is congenial with the habits and feelings of the people; and it would be an easy task for government to call it into activity. I am aware the answer to this will be, admitting the whole that is contended for—where is the market? I answer it thus, from a reference to what has actually taken place—the great and increasing demand for fish in our own market, which is likely still to augment. Formerly the whole of the herrings caught on the Manx coast were exported to the Mediterranean; now they find a home consumption; and ten times more could be sold were they caught and no doubt with encouragement they might be. Is there much doubt that Europe is likely to become a purchaser? If the exchanging fish for animal food would save four millions, this alone would present a most important object. Fish is itself a most palatable and nutricious food, preferred even to butcher's meat where people are accustomed to it. Here then, instead of employing three acres to raise a supply of animal food for one individual giving little or no occupation, two parts out of three of the expense may be applied to labour. The internal advantages to be drawn from this source, are in themselves of most important consequence, had we no ulterior objects to look to. Every person now fed with animal food costs 9l. per annum—on fish he might be equally well supplied for 3l. Other nations of Europe may rival us in many of our manufactures, using our own discoveries to arrive at equal or greater perfection. The advantages of our insular situation are our own exclusively. By availing ourselves of them, we shall most effectually promote our own prosperity, as well as advance the comforts of other nations. Thus, instead of calling forth the envy and jealousy of Europe, we 1337 shall become a necessary party to her happiness. We shall be the basis on which the manufacturing system of other countries will in part rest. Thus, by the barter of food, we should obtain those luxuries which have latterly been preserved by the exchange of our manufactures, and be no longer subject to the caprices of fashion that often prove so destructive to particular fabrics. Nor is it to be considered the least evil that results from the salt tax, the extended smuggling which it occasions; not one-half the salt which is consumed is subject to the duty. The whole revenue is collected on fifty thousand tons. Now twelve millions of persons, at a stone a-piece, would consume seventy-five thousand tons: this must fall infinitely below the consumption, when it is considered how much is consumed in manufactures. The revenue of salt in England is a million and a half—in Scotland it scarce pays the collection—in Ireland one hundred and thirty thousand pounds. The quantity of salt supposed to be made annually amounts to five-hundred thousand tons, employing about forty-thousand persons. Take off the duty, and, independenty of the fisheries, I will show that agriculture would alone require an equal amount. The value of salt to agriculture has long been known. The annual export of it to the Netherlands has for ages been considerable; it is employed universally in the feeding of their cattle and sheep. The superiority of Flemish farming consists in the economical manner of feeding their stock; permanent pastures are a thing scarce known. Thus every acre applied for feeding produces double, at least, when compared with our best grazing land. Salt is found essential not only to the health but to fattening and milking of cattle. Salt is a preventive of rot and other disorders in sheep. It is estimated the British empire feeds thirty millions of sheep, that the annual loss probably exceeds two per cent, or six hundred thousand sheep. Great part of this loss would be avoided by the free use of salt. Estimating the sheep at 10s. a head, the national loss is three hundred thousand pounds. I believe I am very much within the actual loss sustained.
Thirty millions of sheep at two stone a-piece per annum, would be sixty millions of stones; fourteen millions of cows, at six stone each, eighty four millions of stones; two millions of young cattle, at four stones each, eight millions; one million two hundred thousand draft horses, at 1338 four stone each, four millions eight hundred thousand stones; three hundred thousand young horses, at 3st. each, nine hundred thousand, — making a total of 161,700,000, or equal to five hundred and 50 thousand tons. I take not into the account the large quantity that would be used in preparing damaged hay and straw for food, as well as what would be used as manure. Here, then, at once is a trade opened that would employ forty thousand hands, besides the shipping to transport the salt to various quarters of the kingdom. It is probable, also, that the making salt would be resumed on the coast, and thereby consume much of the refuse coal now of little or no value. I cannot estimate the value of salt to agriculture as likely to produce less than two millions. Admitting the increased consumption offish, and the application of some of the best lands in the kingdom to the growing of grain instead of grazing, as they are now employed, it is difficult to say to what amount we might be exporters of grain. That Great Britain has required such great importations, has arisen from the undue proportion of grazing ground. Five times more animal food is consumed in England than any other country in Europe. The advantage of salt to agriculture can scarce be calculated too highly.
We must further add the great benefits that would be derived to our manufactories from the repeal of the duty. Various species of salt would be manufactured both for home consumption and export. Salt would be of great advantage in making of iron: it is found to promote its malleability by clearing the coal of sulphur. A noble lord, to whom the country has been greatly indebted for many valuable discoveries, I mean lord Dundonald, has recently discovered that soap can be made from whale oil by the means of salt without an alkali. This eventually may turn out highly beneficial to the future interests of the whale trade. By removing the vexatious restrictions by which the manufacturing of salt is now hampered, the salt will be made stronger and purer; at present they are not admitted to form it from magnesia and other substances. They will also be at liberty to suffer it to remain longer in the pits, by which a salt more adapted for the curing of fish will be made, and prevent the necessity of importing bay salt. I conceive little doubt can be entertained that four times the quantity of salt, will be manufactured; thus a capital of 1339 two millions will be created, besides the employment of perhaps 80 thousand persons.
The next object that I would call the attention of the House to is, the extreme hardship this tax imposes on the labouring classes. This is of so cruel and oppressive a nature that it will surprise the House. The working classes consume about a stone of salt per head: taking the average number at five, salt costs the cottager nearly 30 shillings a year. Purchasing, as they do, retail, it is fully 6 shillings a stone. Thus, the working man pays one-twentieth of his income, whilst the most opulent do not pay one-thousandth part of theirs. Nor is this all the hardship: it often happens that when the working man kills his pig, which, to him is his sinking fund, if he cannot sell it at a fair price, he has not the means frequently of purchasing the salt to enable him to cure it. If he purchases fresh herrings he is unable probably to be the curer of them from the same cause. Now, Sir, the opulent have been freed from the income tax, the landed interest from the malt duty; it is but justice something should be done for the people. The great relief it will be to all classes to have the duty on salt repealed, is evident. We have little difficulty in fixing on objects of commutation. The agriculturist will be greatly benefitted;—the tradesman—every class in society will be a gainer and able to pay a direct tax to government for the permission of having salt free. Does the farmer of 100l. per annum pay less than 50 shillings annually? Now the advantage he would gain by the use of salt would, in my opinion, be equal to from 10 to 20 pounds per annum. An hon. baronet who has distinguished himself, on all occasions, by his public spirit and benevolence, has taken a most prominent part on the present occasion: in conformity to his wishes I shall enumerate the articles he has proposed as a substitute.
I am perfectly satisfied all parties would be gainers. Sir, Mr. Pitt had certainly made up his mind as to the impolicy of the tax, and determined on commuting it. I believe the right hon. the chancellor of the exchequer was very principally concerned in the report of 1801. I hope his opinions on the subject are not changed. The public call on him is very different from those of former times. The country was then in full activity, and not a hand 1340 unemployed. Riches flowed from all quarters, and the people had the means of procuring food by their exertions. Most lamentably is the case reversed— thousands and thousands are out of employment and nearly starving—they ask for employment—do not our fisheries hold out the strongest hopes of affording it? out of every pound that they produce, sixteen shillings will be expended in labour.
In the present distressful state of the times you have the power of doing them this justice, and, at the same time, benefitting every man in the kingdom, with the exception of those who now enjoy the monopoly of the manufacture of salt. The claims of the people of England on us are, or ought to be, irresistible. Their patience and suffering must speak to every man's heart. The right hon. gentleman has felt these. The measures he has proposed to bring forward has no example; it may relieve but will not remove the evil. The only effectual remedy is to find sources of employment; can he state any means so likely as that the repeal of this odious tax holds out. Mr. Pitt felt and acknowledged its injustice and impolicy. He professed his disposition was, to relieve the country from it. Mr. Addington not only concurred but moved for the committee in 1801 on which the right hon. gentleman opposite to me presided, and which reported so decided an opinion on the ruinous and unjust operation of the tax. Sir, the calls on Mr. Pitt and Mr. Addington for the repeal were in no comparison with those of the present day. Then every hand in the kingdom was employed—all was activity—now the people demand not only a release from what is so oppressive, but, what is of even greater consequence, employment. Can the right hon. gentleman point out any thing more likely, or so likely, to produce it. Whilst the country was flourishing, it would have been unwise to have resorted to experiments: but widely different is our situation—efforts must be made to relieve us. We cannot proceed as we are without ruin. It behoves us, therefore, to cherish every resource that holds out a rational prospect of employment. I am ready to admit that the state of finance of the country is such that a shilling of the taxes cannot be spared—I do not ask it. The hon. mover, with great judgment, has forborne offering any plan of commutation, 1341 but wishes to go into a committee there to inquire into all the bearings of this important subject, and to consider of the objects. on which a commutation can be most properly placed. Sir, though I approve of this, I shall remind the hon. gentleman of a part of the plan of an hon. baronet, I mean sir Thomas Bernard, who has, on all occasions, been the strenuous advocate of every measure that could promote the public interest, and to whose perseverance the attention of the country has been called to this question. He recommended a licence of two per cent, on land, one on houses, and a small tax, if absolutely necessary, on cottages of two shillings or half a crown. These objects alone would produce a million. The export of salt and various manufactures would afford a sum that would make up the million and a half. I am satisfied the farmer of 100l. per annum, who would have 40 shillings to pay, would find himself not paying more than he now does, and would have all the advantage resulting from the free use of salt, which I cannot estimate at less than 20l. per annum. I am satisfied, in my own farm where a stock of 130 head of cattle and 500 sheep, besides a number of horses, are kept, that it would be a saving of 200l. per annum. It is in vain to hope for substantial benefits from any measures that can be devised respecting the poor laws till the population are again actively employed. In asking the people to bear a small part towards their own maintenance, it would be wise, just, and politic to begin by giving them more than double the sum that would be requisite to make them perfectly independent. The repeal would give to the working classes a million per annum, benefit those who were to bear the commutation, and afford employment to thousands of thousands. With such prospects in view, I join cordially in the motion for a committee; out of that committee will come a report that will satisfy nine hundred and ninety-nine out of a thousand of the impolicy and injustice of the tax. I am confident, also, Mr. Speaker, it will confirm every statement of advantage I have presumed to anticipate and contribute, in a high degree, to restore the prosperity of the country, whilst it would carry comfort and satisfaction into the dwellings of all the working classes of the empire. To inquire will show we feel for the people, and are anxious to apply every remedy in our power. I con- 1342 jure the right hon. gentleman not to forego an opportunity of so essentially advancing the best interests of the country.
§ Mr. F. Robinson
gave credit to the hon. mover for the fairness of his motives in bringing forward the present question; and he hoped that he would also give him (Mr. R.) credit for impartiality in the view which he should take of the subject. He had in fact come to the question without having any decided opinion on it. He had been very much struck at first with the statements in the pamphlet of Mr. Parkes, but the more he looked at the subject, and at the statements in that pamphlet, the more was he convinced of the exaggerated views of advantage expected from an abolition of the salt duty. He did not mean to contend that the tax was good in itself, but unless it could be shown that the repeal had some extensive advantages, the House ought to pause before they agreed to the repeal of a tax making so considerable a part of our revenue, without being satisfied that a substitute could be found for it. The hon. gentleman by whom the motion for a committee was made, had declined submitting any commutation to the House; but the hon. gentleman, who spoke last, departing from the example of wisdom which he commended, had suggested a commutation. But he was very much mistaken, indeed, if this would not be considered a much more grievous burthen than the tax. The views which that hon. gentleman had taken of the benefits of the repeal, were exaggerated to the greatest extent—it would give immediate life and activity to the industry of the country—it would vivify manufactures—it would provide for all unemployed seamen—it would give a livelihood, and even fortunes to those employed in the fisheries—it would set agriculture up ! These were the magnificent advantages which they were taught to expect. With regard to the fisheries, he did not believe that the absence of employment arose out of the duty on salt. Fish was at this moment sold at the lowest price at which it could be sold by the persons who caught it, at 2d. a pound; but the utmost difference in price occasioned by the duty would not amount to a fraction of a farthing compared with the Id. It was not the duty, therefore, which could be considered to prevent the consumption. The people who caught the fish did not complain of the duty on salt, but they said they wanted a market. But whatever im- 1343 pediment the salt duty might be to them would be removed by the bill before the House. With respect to mineral alkali, he had to observe, that there was a particular spring in the North of England, which was supposed to be not a common brine spring, though he believed it was, and the persons to whom it belonged were enabled to manufacture salt and mineral alkali without being subjected to duty or any of the regulations of the salt laws. But had any body purchased from them? No, and they had become bankrupts. One of the uses of mineral alkali was dyeing; but the difference occasioned by the salt duty on one yard of cotton or linen would not amount to the fraction of a farthing, and therefore it could not prevent the cotton printer from selling cheap.—Mr. Parkes had enumerated a long list of articles in the manufacture, of which great advantage would be derived from a repeal of duty; but if they looked to most of the articles, they would be found of inconsiderable consequence—sal-ammoniac for instance. Why, the whole used in the country did not exceed two hundred tons — the additional expense occasioned by the duty on the article on which it was employed, was but as a drop of water to the ocean. Mr. Parkes said it was used by ingenious chemists in making experiments in corrosive sublimates and calomels. Many members of that House might have occasionally experienced great benefit from a dose of calomel, but he really did not think that the tax on the quantity of salt used in these articles could amount to much. He certainly was obliged to Mr. Parkes for publishing the book—it gave him much information with respect to subjects with which he was before unacquainted; but he thought he had swelled his list with'' articles which could hardly be well taken into consideration in a question of this kind. The hon. gentleman who spoke last had estimated the number of sheep in the kingdom at thirty millions, and had supposed that salt would be a nostrum against the rot, while it improved both the mutton and the wool. But if this opinion were general, salt would be generally used by farmers, notwithstanding the duty. Lord Somerville, who was one of the best judges on these subjects, had calculated that one thousand sheep would require a ton of salt in the year. The expense of a ton of salt was 30l. So that the charge of this improvement in the treatment of sheep, which was 1344 to ameliorate their mutton, and even their wool, would not be more than 6d. or 7d. each sheep in the year. Was it possible then, that it was the expense of salt which had prevented its general use in this way? In manure also salt was said to be useful. It was applied either by sowing it on the land, or by mixing it in compost? But what was the quantity required for these purposes? About a bushel per acre. (Mr. Curwen said across the House six bushels). He was surprised to hear a practical man say so —as he was convinced the use of salt in such proportion would entirely destroy vegetation. It was used on arable land to the amount of one two or three bushels an acre—but take the greatest of these quantities—it would not exceed 3l. an acre, which was cheaper than any other manure which could be applied. It was pretty evident, therefore, that the dear-ness of salt at present could not be an obstacle to the use of it. There might be many reasons against the use of salt in these ways—there might be prejudices against it, but it was evident, that it was not necessary to repeal the duty to enable the persons interested to apply it to all purposes of agriculture, if it were really beneficial. While it was obvious, that the reasons chiefly urged for the repeal of this tax were nugatory, it became the House, in the present state of the finances, gravely and seriously to consider before it consented to cut off 1,500,000l. from the revenue. In this instance, too, when it was proposed to repeal a tax of long standing, he thought it might fairly be urged, that the person who proposed to abolish the tax, should at the same time point out the means by which the deficiency thus created was to be filled up. As no such means had been pointed out, he could not think it expedient to acquiesce in the motion.
§ Mr. W. Smith
said, he could not help taking up the argument where the right hon. gentleman who had preceded him had left it. The right hon. gentleman had said it became the House to pause and consider before it consented to repeal the tax. Now, for the sake of this consideration, which the right hon. gentleman recommended, he should vote for a committee, where the real influence of the tax on manufactures and commerce might be ascertained, not from vague and contradictory assertions, but from accurate and detailed examinations. There was one argument in favour of the repeal of 1345 the tax, even before such an inquiry was resorted to. It was this; every committee which had before sat on the subject had recommended the abolition of the tax, and that measure was never rejected, but when it was brought before the House at large, which proved that every body of men which had thoroughly examined the subject were convinced of the injurious effects of the duty in question. On such a subject, there was no necessity for asperity or party feeling; and he believed that the right lion, gentleman himself would think the repeal a proper measure, if any substitute for the revenue could be found. In his opinion, however, the great advantages which would result from the abolition of the tax, were such that probably the revenue would not be found to sustain any loss, but if it did, was there nothing to counterbalance this loss, in the advantages which would accrue to manufactures and agriculture. The right hon. gentleman had said, that even at present salt was the cheapest manure. This might be true; but when salt was at 15s. a bushel farmers might be but ill disposed to try experiments as to its efficacy, which they would readily undertake if it were 15s. a bushel. If, as it was said, it was not the price of salt which prevented its use in fisheries, why was it granted duty free to a certain part of those fisheries? This fact was alone a sufficient answer to the assertion of the right hon. gentleman. It had been mentioned as an argument against the repeal of the tax, that no petition in favour of that repeal had been received from the fisheries. There were two reasons for this. The persons engaged in those fisheries were convinced that the duty would not be taken oft unless the administration proposed that measure; and memorials, without end, on that subject had been presented to the Treasury representing the disadvantages of the duty, and complaining of the restrictions under which the use of the salt, duty free, was allowed to some fisheries, though those restrictions, he admitted, were quite necessary while the duty continued. The second reason why the persons concerned in the fisheries did not petition was, that under the present system, by which a few persons were allowed to take out large quantities of a material (on which was so heavy a tax), duty free, notwithstanding all the restrictions, a source was open to them of considerable illicit profits. As to the memorial from the salt manufacturers 1346 of the county of Chester, it was entitled to very little consideration. When a heavy duty was laid on any article, a monopoly was naturally created in favour of those who had not only capital to defray the expenses of the production of the article, but also to advance the duties. To these individuals no advantage would arise from the repeal of the duties, but, on the contrary, a danger of competition from persons of smaller capitals. It had been said, that an inquiry on the subject of this tax would diminish its present productiveness by suspending the manufacture of it. This seemed an unfounded assertion,— because, as it would be well known that the repeal could not take place in the present year, and as the manufacturers of this article could keep no large stocks, the receipt of the duty would go on precisely as before. The mischievousness of the tax would, he admitted, be much diminished by a permission to use crushed salt, duty free, in fisheries, and to exempt from the tax salt used in compost as manure,— though there would be a great difficulty to accomplish these objects, without opening a door to smuggling. But even if the evils of the tax could be thus reduced, it should be observed it was a duty which pressed on the poor man in a forty fold greater proportion than on the rich. For these reasons he should support the original motion.
§ Lord Ebrington
lamented the thin attendance of members on the discussion of a question so important to so large a part of the community. It was with great pleasure he should support the motion for a committee, which would, he hoped, lead to the final repeal of a duty so oppressive to the labouring classes. It had been said that by a bill which the chancellor of the exchequer was to bring in, it was intended to give a great bonus to the fisheries. This bill he had not seen but he had received representations from many persons interested in the fisheries, who represented that they would be injured instead of being benefited, by several of the clauses, and they consequently requested him to oppose them. If this tax were repealed, he could not admit that it would be incumbent on those who proposed the repeal to find a substitute. Economy might render such a substitute unnecessary, but if a substitute were to be provided, he might safely assert there could not be found a tax, the imposition of which would be so injurious to the country as the continua- 1347 tion of this, the operation of which was so injurious on the lower orders.
§ Sir C. Pole
denied that the observation of the right hon. gentleman was correct, that no petitions had been presented from persons concerned in the fisheries for the repeal of this duty. He had presented two that day. He hoped, when the bill before the House was referred to the committee, that some additional exempting clauses would be added, to prevent the ill consequences which were anticipated by the parties for whose benefit it was intended.
§ Sir John Newport
said, that in rising to deliver his sentiments on the present occasion, he was at least free from the imputation of interested motives, for he was not only uninterested in a personal point of view in the issue of this question, but he had no connexion with any party who was so engaged. The motion merely called for a committee, and it was quite plain that if they meant to discuss the subject they had no other course. How else but by an examination before a committee could they understand the details of a question affecting so many branches of the people's industry? And as to the reason which had induced the chancellor of the exchequer to refuse this committee, viz, the probability that some diminution would take place in the receipt of the duties, that would be an objection to any inquiry whatever on the subject of the operation of any tax. Their course of proceeding was different on the question respecting the leather trade, for there they went into the committee, obtained valuable information, and redressed some of the then existing abuses. All that was at present called for was, the sort of inquiry to which parliament always resorted on similar occasions, and on which they had already made a report, which on a former occasion met with the sanction of the right hon. gentleman (the chancellor of the exchequer), who now, it appeared, turned round and took from his pocket a memorial from an interested party, and at once became a convert to its reasoning. Now, what was that reasoning? Why it was, in plain terms, this, "We (the memorialists) say, that if you repeal these duties, great numbers will set up in the same trade with us, our monopoly will be injured, and we pray of you to interpose and secure it to us." Such was the document, and such its argument.—Here he could not but reprobate this practice of the members of go- 1348 vernment suddenly pulling out their exparte pocket documents, and quoting them in debate, without giving any idea of the way in which they were obtained. Why not, in common candour, if the right hon. gentleman must ransack the treasury bureau, have presented to the House, at the same time, the memorials that it was stated had been transmitted for the repeal of the tax? His conduct would have been then somewhat open and correct. The right hon. gentleman had said, that there was no petition presented against the salt duties. Yes, there were, and they would be found on the table of the House, and memorials to the same effect were said to have been piled up in the treasury. The contrariety of sentiment among the fishery persons and agriculturists upon the subject, was, so far from being a ground of opposition to going into a committee, the strongest reason in the world for going into it; for there alone could the truth be ascertained between all parties.—The right hon. gentleman at the head of the board of trade had said, that the effect of salt as a manure was doubtful among agriculturists. He would only say, without pretending to much knowledge on such a subject, that he knew apart of a lawn near his own residence, where, twenty-five years ago, salt had been strewed, and the grass grown on that spot was invariably consumed by the sheep, while they would not touch a blade of that on the adjoining spot, which was not so manured. This was a fact within his own knowledge; and although the ground had not been turned up since the period to which he alluded, the same distinction was to the present hour observable in its quality. If his majesty's government would fairly consider this question, they would do more for the country than they could possibly accomplish by any issue of exchequer bills—in the one case they would be administering permanent relief, and in the other but temporary. He would implore them to pursue the wiser course, and not attempt to prop up a system that was in itself radically wrong, by any little paltry temporary expedient. If the House did not fully examine this question, it would not perform its duty to the public. Let it at least show an inclination to enter upon an examination, or do any thing but reject, in limine, an inquiry which all must conscientiously feel to be necessary. It was not by pulling from one's pocket a memorial of a party interested in upholding a 1349 monopoly, that the continuance of an oppressive tax could be made palatable to the people—it was not by an issue of exchequer bills to certain corporations or associations that the situation of the country could be ameliorated. No; such means would never reach the object—it could only be accomplished by abridging the public expenditure, by cutting down the establishments of the country to their proper station, by probing the whole system of the national expense to the bottom, and making it demonstratively plain to the people at large that parliament had not countenanced the issue of one penny beyond what was called for by the actual exigencies of the state.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said, that since he had been at the treasury board no memorial had been received for a repeal of this tax; and though petitions had been presented praying for an inquiry into these duties, there had not been any for its total repeal.
§ Mr. Robinson
explained, that he never meant to discourage the use of salt as manure; all he meant to infer was, that the present price could not prevent its use; as, if it really were an object, it was still cheaper than any other article that could be used for the purpose.
was of opinion, that a substitute should be named before they could enter upon so serious a consideration as the abolition of a revenue of 1,500,000l. a year. It was no valid objection to the salt tax to say, that it particularly fell on the poorer classes—so did every generally productive tax. What information could they get in a committee that they had not already? It was impossible, after the repeated discussions of this subject, that they could hope to elicit fresh matter in a committee. The evil of this sort of inquiries was, that during their operation the revenue became seriously injured, from the doubts that over-hung the speculations of those whose interests were to be in the end affected by the consideration. So it was in this very case. The defalcation in the last quarter's return of revenue was 80,000l., and the manufacturers did not conceal the cause of it; they did not hesitate to say, that they could not work freely, until the subject was brought to a final issue one way or another. Here was the case of a tax subsisting in its present state for a great number of years, and now it was proposed to shake it off, without any suggestion for supplying the great§1350 deficit that would be thus occasioned in the revenue of the country. Mr. Pitt's sentiments relative to these laws had been incorrectly stated. That great statesman was never so sanguine an advocate for their repeal, as he had been represented to be. He (Mr. Rose) also denied the benefit that it was imagined would arise to the agricultural classes by this repeal. In Ireland the duty on salt was by no means what it was here, and was it ever used in that country for agricultural purposes:— ["Often," from sir John Newport.]—Well, he hid never before heard so. There was no duty on it in the Isle of Man, and the farmers there never used it; nor when the tax was repealed in England, was it ever used for agricultural purposes. The fisheries were also generally indifferent about it—he knew the Deep Sea company (the only national one) was. As to the operation of the tax upon the poor generally, it was greatly exaggerated. He could not conceive how the hon. gentleman could be persuaded, that a poor man's consumption of salt amounted to a 20th part of his income. It had been calculated, that the consumption for a man, his wife, and three children, amounted to no more than 2S or 29lbs. in a year. On the whole, he was convinced, that no possible advantage could be derived from the committee.
§ Sir T. Acland
said, the tax on salt pressed on the lowest cottager. The high price of salt prevented the poor from resorting to one of the best means of husbanding their food. It was to be recollected too, that an addition of 15 or 20 shillings on the pig which he killed at the end of the year, was a most serious tax on a labourer. The vexatiousness of the tax was not less than its oppressiveness; for even in the bill which was to be brought in to relieve certain persons from its operation, many of the clauses were obnoxious to the very persons whom they were intended to relieve, on account of their restrictions and prohibitions. Wishing for the abolition of the tax, he was anxious to go into the committee, not with a view of putting an end to the salt duties in the present year, but in order to lay a foundation for doing it away at some future period. If the proposed inquiry were gone into, he had no doubt a fit substitute for the tax in question might he sound, and he was therefore decidedly in favour of the motion, as he wished such steps to be taken as should indicate a desire to put an 1351 end to it at the first moment this should be found practicable.
§ Mr. Calcraft
, in reply, animadverted Strongly upon the conduct of the board of trade, with regard to the measure under consideration. For it appeared, that the application of half a dozen interested persons to that board, had more weight with his majesty's ministers, and especially with the right hon. gentleman who presided at that board, than the general voice of the country, or the report of a committee of that House. But if the private application of interested individuals was thus to be preferred to the public interest, nay, to the consistency of ministers themselves, where were the people to look for redress, or for the candid consideration of their case? He trusted, however, that that House would not sanction such a principle, or produce the impression to which it was but too likely to lead; and, therefore, he called upon the House to accede to the committee, which he had felt it his duty to move. It was to be recollected, that he did not propose the repeal of the tax under discussion; that, on the contrary, lie admitted the question to be doubtful, and therefore he suggested the propriety of referring it to the consideration of a select committee, But the right hon. the treasurer of the navy had distinctly stated, that it was desirable to repeal the tax altogether, if a convenient substitute for it could be devised. Yet, strange to tell, notwithstanding this declaration, the right hon. gentleman's course of argument was quite in favour of the tax, and he had declared his intention to vote against a motion, which merely proposed to consider the propriety of repealing this tax! As to the argument of the chancellor of the exchequer upon the re-enactment of the salt tax in 1732, notwithstanding its repeal about three years before, the right hon. gentleman should consider the material difference of information between that period and the present, as well with respect to chymical as to other points. The right hon. gentleman, stated that the revenue would suffer greatly if this tax was abandoned; and intimated that those who proposed its repeal were bound to find a substitute. He, however, 1352 did not conceive that to be any part of his duty as a member of parliament. He had pointed out a tax which was oppressive to the people, and injurious to the country; and on these grounds he thought it ought to be repealed, even though the chancellor of the exchequer, with all his ingenuity in the art of taxation, should be unable to find a substitute. All he asked of the House was, that it should act with consistency, and inquire whether the tax might not with safety be repealed, and another substituted.
The previous question being put, the House divided:
Ayes 70 Noes 79 Majority against the motion —9
|List of the Minority.|
|Atkins, alderman||Mackintosh, sir J,|
|Acland, sir T.||Martin, H.|
|Allan, Geo.||Martin, J.|
|Anson, sir G.||Milton, visc.|
|Atherley, A.||Monck, sir C.|
|Aubrey, sir J.||Morland, S. B,|
|Blair, J. H.||Moore, Peter|
|Bennet, hon. H. G.||Newman, R. W.|
|Barham, J.||Newport, sir J,|
|Baring, sir T.||Ord, Wm.|
|Barnett, J.||Ossulston, lord|
|Brand, hon. Thos.||Palmer, C.|
|Brougham, Henry||Parnell, sir H.|
|Burrell, hon. P. D.||Philips, George|
|Bentinck, lord W.||Ponsonby, rt. hon. G.|
|Barclay, C.||Power, Richard|
|Bolland, J.||Prittie, hon. F. A.|
|Babington, Thos.||Proby, hon. capt.|
|Browne, D.||Phillimore, Dr.|
|Campbell, gen. D.||Portman, E. B.|
|Carew, R. S.||Protheroe, E.|
|Curwen, J. C.||Ridley, sir M. W.|
|Dickenson, Wm.||Romilly, sir S.|
|Duncannon, visc.||Savile, A.|
|Ebrington, visc.||Sharp, Richard|
|Egerton, Wm.||Smyth, W.|
|Fane, J.||Stanley, lord|
|Gordon, Robt.||Tremayne, J. H.|
|Grenfell, Pascoe||Tierney, rt. hon. G.|
|Gascoyne, gen.||Waldegrave, hon. W,|
|Hamilton, lord A.||Wilkins, Walter|
|Hornby, E.||Wynn, C. W.|
|Knox, T.||Wilberforce, W.|
|Lamb, hon. W,||TELLERS.|
|Lefevre, C. S.||Calcraft, J.|
|Lemon, sir W.||Davenport, D.|
|Lyttelton, hon. W.||PAIRED OFF.|
|Leigh, J. H.||Hobhouse, sir B,|