HC Deb 28 June 1822 vol 7 cc1407-13
Mr. Brogden

brought up the report on the 12th resolution, relative to the payment of the naval and military pensions.

Mr. Curwen

said, that government ought to attend to the strong call of the country to abolish the remnant of the Salt tax. The continuation of this tax, could not be for the sake of revenue. Patronage was the real object. For so paltry a sum as 200,000l., a tax was to be retained, calculated to be injurious rather than beneficial to the revenue. The complete repeal of the salt duties ought to take place, were it only for the sake of Ireland. In the north of Ireland, employment kept the people in a state of comfort, and consequently of tranquillity. Let this tax be repealed, and the same would be the case in the south, and every man might then have a herring to his potatoe.—If the salt duties were abolished, where we now drew one million from the sea, we might draw many millions. At such a moment as the present, it was imperative on parliament, to see in what way they could give effective energy to the industry of the people. Let them look at the Isle of Man, where a thousand boats were beneficially employed in deriving from the sea the means of subsistence and comfort. Apply a similar principle to Ireland. Repeal the salt tax, and follow up that repeal by lending the people of the south of Ireland money to buy boats, and the good effect would be presently and unequivocally manifested. Would not that be much better than to support the patronage which the preservation of the duty gave to ministers? Would not that be better than to continue 200 excisemen in office in Scotland, and 800 in England? A heavy responsibility would rest on government, if they persevered in retaining this tax. He would move as an amendment, to omit all the words in the resolution, for the purpose of inserting the following—"That all duties payable on salt in Great Britain and Ireland, shall cease, and be no longer payable."

Mr. Leycester

said, that the disinclination evinced to relinquish this duty, appeared to him to be a part of the ministerial horror of plentiful produce and abundant markets. There could be little doubt that this obnoxious remnant of taxation was retained at the solicitation of the collectors of it. The repeal of this tax would purchase for ministers the good humour and good opinion of the country; and as these commodities were evidently growing dearer and dearer every day, the right hon. gentleman could not do better than lay out a little money in this way. The Chancellor of the Exchequer would say, he expected to raise 400,000l. instead of 200,000l. by this tax. So much the worse: the thing to be avoided was, the taking of money out of the pockets of the people—the thing to be desired was, to leave a shilling in them, if they happened to have one there. There was not the smallest pretext for retaining this tax. They who were desirous of not having to pay for their salt sevenfold would support the amendment. If the right hon. gentleman was determined to retain such a quantum of revenue as this 200,000l., let the tanners wait till next session for the repeal of the leather tax.

Mr. J. Smith

supported the amendment, but was anxious that the surplus of revenue should not be abandoned, lest public credit should be prejudiced.

Mr. Denison

wished this odious tax should be repealed. He was anxious that the public creditor should receive his dividends, and thought that every effort ought to be made punctually to pay him, but when that had been made, all had, in his opinion, been done, that was necessary.

Mr. Lyttleton

considered the advantage to be gained by retaining the trifling remnant of this tax, to be by no means equal to the inconvenience attending the pressure of it.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

regretted that an arrangement which, when first proposed, appeared to give general satisfaction, should be disturbed by this amendment. If the House determined on the total repeal of this tax, he should be compelled to abandon his resolution of repealing a part of the leather tax. He was satisfied that a partial repeal of both taxes would be more beneficial than the total repeal of one of them. He had been accused of a desire to retain the tax, on account of the patronage; but the fact was, that the Treasury had nothing to do with the patronage. The officers were all appointed by the board of Excise. The saving, on the head of collection, in case of a total repeal, would be very, inconsiderable, as the officers employed for this tax were employed also for other purposes; and very few of them could be dismissed. The Irish fisheries were under none of the restrictions which had been complained of; so that the argument as to the inconvenience in that respect, fell entirely to the ground. He did not much, approve of the extension of bounties. It would lead to the system described by Adam Smith, under which men fished for bounties rather than herrings. When it was considered how great was the reduction already afforded, he could not believe that the public would be inconvenienced by the remnant. The duty would not be more than a halfpenny in the pound. The remnant of the tax had been called contemptible, but it amounted to 200,000l. a year—a sum which he could not consent to give up. If the House were resolved on repealing this tax, he must retain the tax upon leather. The total repeal of the tax would materially interfere with the kelp trade in the Highlands; a trade which gave employment to 40,000 persons. If he abandoned the whole of the salt tax and a part of the leather tax, he should be sacrificing the best interests of the country.

Mr. Wodehouse

objected to their clinging to the wretched remnant of a tax, the produce of one-fourth of which must be spent in paying the officers who collected it.

Lord Althorp

contended, that it was impossible for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, with any regard to his own character, to carry into effect his threat not to relieve the country from any part of the leather tax, if the whole of the salt tax were repealed.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, he had always made the reduction of the leather tax dependent Upon the measures adopted regarding the salt tax.

Colonel Wood

said, he should always vote upon principle against isolated motions for repeal of taxes. Instead of sweeping away different taxes, the proper way would be to lower all taxes, to a certain extent.

Mr. R. Martin

said, that on the western coast of Ireland the people found no market for their labour, but in the manufacture of kelp. H stated this in behalf of the famishing population of that part of Ireland, assuring the House, that if this remaining duty on salt were repealed, the whole of the persons in that part of Ireland would have no 'market whatever for their labour.

Mr. Lushington

said, the question was, whether the House would disturb the financial system which his right hon. friend had recently introduced? His right hon. friend proposed the repeal of 13–15ths of the salt tax, and one-half of the leather tax. He also proposed the repeal of the Irish window tax. In the whole, two millions of taxes. That arrangement, gentlemen received with acclamations; but they now proposed to disturb that system, and by assailing the Sinking fund to deprive the public creditor of the security that he ought to enjoy. It was now proposed to take away the entire tax, as far as it regarded the fisheries—a measure, which would be injurious, instead of beneficial to them. He would, if the question were now pressed on him, prefer the repeal of the tax on candles: he would rather see another tax, the tax on coals, remitted, than the leather tax.

Mr. Wetherell

said, he would oppose the motion, because, without going into a consideration whether the leather tax ought to be preferred to the salt tax, he thought, that tax after tax could not, with safety to the country be remitted.

Mr. Scott

said, that the time had arrived for taking off many of the burthens imposed on the people during the course of the late war. There were two modes of granting relief from taxation. The one was by taking off taxes altogether; the other by reducing them, and retaining a little of every tax. He was in favour of the former mode, because, if an entire tax were taken off, it would relieve the people more than if the same nominal amount were remitted from two different taxes. If a tax were reduced, so as to leave 200,000l. of it still to be collected, the public, instead of paying merely that sum, would, in all probability, looking to the machinery of the tax, pay at least half a million. 1f the whole of the salt tax were removed, the people would feel a substantial benefit; but if 2s. per bushel were suffered to remain, it would be swelled to about 5s. 6d. There was no just ground for continuing this tax—a fact which was very evident from the manner in which its continuance had been defended.

Sir F. Ommaney

approved of the partial repeal of the salt tax, but could not vote for its total abolition. Government had made great efforts to contract the public expenditure; and much individual suffering had been the consequence. Let the House look at many of the public servants who had been employed 14, 15, or 20 years. They were reduced to a state of beggary, and some of them had actually shot themselves. This was not the way to treat faithful servants, and parliament was bound, fairly, openly, and honestly to support the taxes in order to enable those persons to maintain themselves.

The Marquis of Londonderry

said, he would endeavour to call back their recollection to the evening when his right hon. friend brought forward his proposition for a relaxation of the taxes, and when he (lord L.) congratulated the House on the unanimity which that measure appeared to produce. He would ask, when his right hon. friend afterwards proposed new measures with respect to the leather tax, and to the salt tax, with reference to the fisheries, whether there was not a tacit pledge that the latter subject would be pursued no farther? After what had been done by his right hon. friend, he did not think the gentlemen opposite had taken the tone which they ought to have adopted on this occasion. They ought not now to take advantage of what his right hon. friend had previously done, to press for other measures which could only retard and embarrass the business of the country. There was a very great distinction between the situation in which they now stood, and that in which they were placed at the commencement of the session. They ought to consider what quantity of taxation had already been remitted, and how far the House was bound by its own acts to preserve the interest of the public creditor. At one time it was an option between tax and tax; but that was no longer the case; and election had been made, and it was with reference to that election that the reduction of the 5 per cents took place, which enabled ministers to give up the leather tax, and to grant other relief. That transaction was placed on the records of parliament: it was the most important financial measure of the session, and now formed a part of the law of the land. Therefore, though originally it might have been an option between the salt tax and the leather tax, it had ceased to be so; and to call for a repeal of both would be a virtual retractation of the votes given in the present session. He was happy to find that his right hon. friend had, with that manly firmness and integrity which belonged to his character, refused to give up the salt tax. After having offered his resolution to the House —after having brought forward this inchoate proceeding—he was right in saying, that unless he heard very substantial reasons in the course of the discussion to induce him conscientiously to abandon it, he could not comply with the demand of the gentlemen opposite. If the salt tax were wholly repealed, it would be necessary to continue that on leather; which would inflict a severe injury on persons employed in the tanning trade. They would have been deceived, and would have good reason to complain. When his right hon. friend first proposed a remission of taxes, there was a universal concurrence on both sides of the House, as to the propriety of the measure. The hon. member for Cumberland required that the fisheries should be exempted from the salt duty, and the point was conceded. What was the grateful return made for that concession? He now turned round and said, "because you have given up so much, you shall give up more."

Mr. S. Wortley

said, that if called upon to make an election betwixt the total repeal of the salt tax or part of the leather tax, he should prefer voting for the total repeal of the salt tax; although he did not think that the repeal of either of them would much benefit the country.

The House divided: For the original resolution, 104. For Mr. Curwen's amendment, 92.—Majority, 12.