HC Deb 20 March 1822 vol 6 cc1206-15
Mr. Curwen,

in rising to bring on his promised motion for a committee of the whole House on the import duties on Tallow, said, that the subject was one of great importance, not only as it affected the landed interest of the country, but as it affected other interests, which it was the duty of that House to protect. He had the means of knowing the opinions of agriculturists, and he knew that they thought that the importation of foreign tallow was one amongst other causes which operated to produce the great disproportion which unfortunately existed between the supply and the demand. He would press this measure on the consideration of the House, as one which was just and necessary in itself; and as one, which if entertained, would not tend to decrease the revenue, whilst on the other hand it would essentially serve the farmer. He believed he was sanctioned by the opinion of the chancellor of the exchequer in saying, that though considerable duties were placed on the importation of other articles, the produce of this country, yet those duties did not tend to diminish the consumption of those articles, or to injure the revenue of the state. The same reasoning he thought might be applied with equal force with respect to tallow. The English farmer would be able to supply the demand of the English market, and he ought to be placed at least on a just and equal footing with the foreign agriculturist. He believed that all men, however they might differ on other points, agreed that the country in general, and the agriculturists in particular, laboured under great and pressing difficulties. He was willing to assume that government felt for those distresses—he was willing to believe that it was the wish of government to give relief. Unfortunately, however, persons differed as to the best means of affording that relief, and he in common with the great bulk the people, was convinced, that the measures already taken by government were quite inadequate to afford any sensible amelioration of the public distress. He did not call on the government to sacrifice any portion of the public revenue, without receiving an equivalent in another shape. The anxiety of ministers to preserve that revenue would not preclude them from giving their support to the present proposition. And here he would call the serious attention of gentlemen to the melancholy fact, that whatever might have been the extent of public distress, unquestionably since the parliament had assembled that distress had not been diminished. He did not mean to throw blame upon ministers. He did not mean to under-rate the steps which they had taken. The taking off shilling per bushel on the duty on malt might have been thought by them the most probable means of affording relief; but the country now felt that relief did not follow the reduction of that tax, at least, in the proportion which was expected. It was his opinion, that other measures might be carried into effect from which greater relief might be derived, and he called upon ministers to see whether any thing further in the shape of practical relief might be effected. The measure he was about to propose would tend to relieve the farmer, without putting any burthen upon the consumer. If it could have such an effect, he would not bring it forward; he would not stand up in his place to advocate any measure which might relieve the agriculturists at the expence of the great class of consumers. It was evident that the difficulties under which the country laboured were not confined to the agricultural body. It was not the landlord; the tenant, and the labourers that alone suffered; but the great body of the people at large felt the pressure of the times. He might appeal to every gentleman who heard him, whether, at every fair and market town in the kingdom, the consequence of the reduced situation of the farmer was not experienced. Formerly the farmer, after disposing of his produce stopped in order to take necessary refreshment, and to provide himself with articles of comfort and convenience; but at present, the moment the market was concluded the farmer ran off without spending a farthing. Such was the fact, the distress of the farmer affected not only himself; but every tradesman, every publican, every man who had any thing to sell, felt the consequences of the distress of the agriculturists. That distress, even amongst the farmers, did not press equally. The graziers suffered more than the growers of corn; meat, which formerly sold for 10d. was now 3d. or 4d., and in the metropolis at the highest price, not more than 7d. per lb.; such was the price to the consumer, but the farmer received not more than 3½d. per lb. sinking the offal. It was a fact, that prime cattle at present brought no more than cattle from the highlands of Scotland had formerly brought. The measure he had to submit to the House, namely, an additional duty on the importation of tallow, would, in the first instance, have the effect of raising the price of that article, but by taking off part of the tax upon tallow manufactured, which now bore so heavily upon him, the consumer would derive infinitely more benefit than disadvantage from the plan; and the farmer would be considerably benefitted. The average quantity of tallow imported from Russia was computed to amount to about 35,000 tons a year the quantity melted in this country was estimated at 70,000 tons a year. The average price per lb at present was 3½d. Now, in what situation did the two countries respectively stand? The English grazing farmer could not produce his tallow without feeding his cattle upon land that was equal in value to about 20s. per acre; the Russian farmer produced his from lands that were worth not quite 1s. per acre. The latter produced his tallow, also, without any more labour or expense than the trouble of slaughtering his beasts, and boiling the fat down; these beasts were not, like ours, valuable cattle, but animals that were merely raised and kept for the purpose of obtaining their tallow. But was this the only comparison to be made between the two countries? Was the situation of a farmer, or even of a labourer, in this country, to be likened to that of a peasant or farmer in Russia? Surely the interests of our own producer, on every ground, merited protection. The duty upon Russian tallow imported, was now 10l. odd per cent: the duty on hemp, an article so necessary and essential to our shipping, no less than 35l. Now, was there any just gradation of policy, he would ask, in taxing an article like hemp—of indispensable necessity to our most valuable service, and of which we ourselves were not growers, but consumers only, at this high rate; and levying upon tallow—an article raised by ourselves—a duty almost nominal, in comparison to the other? His motion was framed to protect our own markets, not only now, but hereafter, from excessive importation from other countries; for, had there been peace in South America for any length of time, we might have expected great quantities of tallow from that part of the world. Russia produced, altogether, 40,000 tons of tallow yearly; of which she exported from 30 to 35,000 tons to this country. And how did Russia preserve this trade? It was very extraordinary, but it was true, that she imposed 8 per cent on the tallow exported from her coasts; and made us pay annually, about 70,000l. for what?—for permission to bring her tallow to our own markets, to put down the produce of our own agriculturists. The duty upon imported tallow he should now propose very considerably to increase. What would be the consequence of such increase might be gathered from the beneficial effects of a similar increase in other cases. It would operate as the augmented duties had done with respect to our trade with Spain and Holland. Spain took off her heavy duty on exported wool, the moment she found that the right hon. gentleman opposite had placed a new duty on its importation. Holland had done the same, when the duties on foreign butter and cheese were imposed. Russia ought now to be made, through the same mode of proceeding, to take off her duty upon tallow. So far from our trade with Holland having declined by reason of the new duties, she had this year sent over 800,000 barrels of butter—which was more than she sent before those duties were imposed. The trade with Ireland had, perhaps, somewhat decreased; but, as Ireland, from the nature of her climate and soil, must in the end thrive most by attending both to grazing and the dairy, be was for permitting these duties to continue. In praying for a committee of that House to consider this subject, he was prepared to go to the full extent of putting a duty of 20l. per ton upon foreign imported tallow. Upon the whole quantity of tallow imported, allowing for the duty payable in Russia, this would be an imposition of about 15l. per cent on the value, as regarded foreign tallow only; the Russian grazing farmer, instead of getting 3½d., would get only 2½d. per lb. This tax of 15l. per cent divided upon the whole quantity of tallow, foreign as well as home-produced would cause a rise in the price of tallow of about 5l. per ton. Now, in his humble opinion, this increased duty would have the effect of increasing the yearly value of grazing lands by about 300,000l. he calculated that the increased duty would afford to the revenue a surplus over the produce of the old duty of 300,000l. He should propose that this 300,000l. be applied to taking off the present duty on candles, which now yielded somewhere about 360,000l. per annum; and the expenses for the collection of which amounted to about one seventh of the duty. The price of the candle to the manufacturer was not more than 5d., the cost of manufacturing ld., and yet the consumer, for the most inferior sort, paid 9d. per lb. For every 6d., therefore, of cost, the consumer paid 2d. profit to the manufacturer, and 1d. for duty to government. He should not have brought the present subject before the House, could he have prevailed upon ministers, from whose hands such propositions always emanated with most propriety to do so. The distresses of the times, however, had operated with him, to give ministers an opportunity of at least reconsidering these matters; and on that ground he moved. "That this House will resolve itself into a committee of the whole House, to take into consideration the propriety of augmenting the existing duties on Tallow, and also for repealing the duty on Candles."

Mr. Sykes

could not concur with his hon. Mend in the principal object of his motion; because, at a time when the question of peace or war was trembling in the balance—when the fate of thousands of unfortunate christians was involved in the forthcoming decision of the cabinets of Petersburgh and, Constantinople, it would be unwise to irritate the Russian government by imposing a severe additional duty upon an article of Russian produce. Such a course, moreover, might lead to some harsh retaliatory measure on their part, directed against the commerce of England. It must be evident, too, that if the importation from Russia was lessened, the exportation from England, must decrease in proportion. He did, however, perfectly agree with his hon. friend, in the necessity of repealing the tax on candles, which was a tax on labour itself; because, while gas, and oil lamps, and; a hundred other elegant inventions, were employed for the purpose of lighting the mansions of the rich, the industrious mechanic worked many hours, after his daily labour, by candle light. A tax on candles, therefore, was a direct tax on labour; and consequently one that no motives of human policy could ever sanction. He was not disposed to disagree with the financial views of the chancellor of the exchequers or to contend, that there ought not to be a surplus beyond the expenses of the country. Whether that surplus should be to the extent of five millions above the annual revenue, he would not decide; but if it were proposed that it should accumulate at compound interest, he should give it his firm opposition. He had seen that the sinking funds of sir R. Walpole and of Mr. Pitt, had no sooner been established, than they were broken in upon; and he anticipated the same result if the system were now revived. In so much of the proposition of the hon. mover, as contemplated the reduction of the tax, he fully agreed; but he could not agree in any measure which would indicate hostility on the part of this country against Russia.

Mr. Robinson

agreed in a great part of what had fallen from the hon. member for Hull. As one who was connected with that interest which the hon. mover professed himself anxious to support, he was necessarily desirous of entertaining any measure which could be proposed for the relief of the agricultural interest, without injury to others; but he could not agree to a proposal which could only benefit agriculture by throwing a burthen on the whole body of consumers, or by impeding the trade of the country. The tax proposed to be laid on foreign tallow must have one of two effects—it would raise the price of tallow, or it would not. If it raised the price of tallow, it would increase the price of candles to the consumer, and render the burthen more onerous to those who already complained of the taxes: if it did not raise the price of tallow, it was no protection to the agriculturists. The duty on candles was now 9l. or 10l. a ton, that on tallow at present between 3l. and 4l. The proposal of the hon. mover was, to take off the tax on candles, and increase the duty on tallow to 20l.; so that the duty on the ton of candles would be increased from about 12l. 10s. to 20l. Looking to the effect of the proposed duty, he could not help observing, that the most active advocate of the tax on tallow (he did not mean the hon. mover) who was propagating pretty largely the facts and arguments in favour of this tax, was, at least such was the general notion in the city, greatly interested in an advance of the price of the article [hear!]. This gentleman did not go the length of asserting, that the price of tallow would not be increased; but he went a round-about way to prove, that the increase would not be beyond 5l. 10s. a ton, an increase of price which would make a difference of 3s. a-head on an ox. Really, then, were they to risk the embarrassment of commercial relations, and to throw a fresh burthen on the consumer, for the sake of a boon, which after all, was not worth having The hon. mover had, however, so managed his argument as to suppose, in one breath, that the tax would operate as a protection to the agricultural interest, because it would raise the price of tallow; in another breath, that it would not injure the consumers, because it would not raise the price of tallow. The hon. member to make out this last supposition, had told them, that the foreign producer could afford to sell his tallow so much lower than he actually did, that he, and not the consumer would pay the tax. Now this, if it were true, was no argument for the measure. The just complaint of foreigners, was that the trade of this country was so restricted, that all their ingenuity was required to get an article into this country on profitable terms; and now that one article was found on which they could get a profit, the state was to step in and take it in the shape of a tax. If this was to be our rule of commercial policy, we might as well shut up shop at once. On these grounds, therefore, he should oppose the motion.

Mr. Ricardo

said, he had heard with great pleasure the principles avowed by the president of the board of trade, and hoped the right hon. gentleman would hereafter act upon them; for if they had hitherto been followed up, the right hon. gentleman could never have proposed the duties upon cheese and butter [Hear!!.] The hon. mover was a great friend to agriculture, and was ready to go a great way in support of it. The length to which he had gone that night was really surprising, for he had told them exactly the quantity of tallow produced in this country, the quantity produced abroad, and the effect which the tax operating on this quantity would have upon the price, which he told them was precisely 5l. 10s., the rest of the proposed tax being to be paid by the foreign producer. How the hon. gentleman got at this result was surprising. He believed the fact would turn out to be very different; that the producers in all foreign countries furnished their articles on the average, at the price at which they could afford them; and that a tax now imposed, would on the average of future years, be added to the price. He could not consent to tax the whole community for the benefit of one class. As he anticipated that his hon. friend's motion would meet with the fate it deserved, he should not detain the House longer, but to observe on a remark of the hon. member for Hull. The hon. member for Hull had said, that he was a friend to a surplus revenue beyond expenditure, but that be was an enemy to a sinking fund. Now to what purpose was a surplus revenue applicable but as a sinking fund? The hon. member had said, that he found from the experience of history, that a sinking fund was always seized by the ministers. He (Mr. R.) agreed with him, and it was on this account that he objected to the proposal to maintain a; surplus revenue. In principle nothing could be better than a sinking fund. He was so great a friend to the principle, that he was ready to consent that the country should make a great effort to get out of debt; but then he would be sure that the means taken would effect the object. He would not trust any ministers, no matter who they were, with a surplus revenue, and he should, therefore, join in any vote for a remission of taxes that might be proposed, so long as a surplus revenue remained. The taxes on candles and on salt had been proposed for reduction, but though that on salt was undoubtedly very burthensome, it did not appear to him to be that which most demanded reduction. The taxes on law proceedings seemed to him the most abominable that existed in the country, by subjecting the poor man, and the man of middling forte, tune, who applied for justice, to the most ruinous expence [hear!]. Every gentle man had his favourite plan for repealing a particular taxi and this tax upon justice; was that which he should most desire to see reduced.

Mr. T. Wilson

expressed the strongest objection to the measure proposed, and was very doubtful what would be its effect upon Russia. The hon. mover had stated, that when the duties on wool were imposed, the Spanish government took off the exports, but he forgot the circumstance, that Spain immediately prohibited woollen goods of the manufacture of this country. The same effect, he was convinced, would follow, if such a course were pursued towards Russia. He was a friend to free trade, and if its principles were not to be acted upon, he was anxious for the character of this, country, that it should not cast the first stone, and allow other nations to say, that they were only retaliating upon us.

Mr. Bennet,

of Wilts, said, he was a friend to the principles of free trade, but he had never heard them applied to the removal of the restrictions on the proposed repeal of the importation of hats, or silk, or leather goods, or the other innumerable articles of manufacture, but solely to the removal of the small protection which agriculture enjoyed. He was convinced that some restrictions were necessary at present, as in no manufactures could we compete with foreigners under the present weight of taxation. The tax which had been imposed on foreign wool had been most beneficial, as it had been paid entirely out of the pockets of Spanish wool growers; wool being as cheap now as it was before. Tallow would, he was convinced, be little increased in price by the tax, as the expence in Russia was merely that of driving the beasts together, and boiling the fat. He should cordially support the motion.

Mr. Philips

called the attention of the House to the manner in which the manufacturers had come forward in favour of a free trade, referring particularly to a petition presented from the chamber of commerce of Manchester. He contended, that the skill and ingenuity of our manufacturers was sufficient to protect them against the rivalship of foreign nations. On the subject of a relaxation of taxes, he expressed his decided opinion, that the duty which might be most beneficially removed was that upon raw silk. It would produce a vast extension of the manufacture of that article, and would thereby inevitably benefit the agricultural interest; seeing that the prosperity of agriculture depended mainly upon the prosperity of the manufactures. He trusted that the session would not be allowed to pass away, without some further light being thrown upon the subject of a free trade with foreign countries.

Mr. Curwen shortly replied. After which, the motion was negatived.