HC Deb 06 April 1824 vol 11 cc178-80

Mr. Wodehouse moved for "a return of the total number of Excise. Prosecutions that have been entered during the last six years, for offences against the Salt-laws; showing the amount of penalties received, and the particular number in each year." He wished at the same time to ask his right hon. friend the chancellor of the Exchequer whether, in the event of the tax being continued, it would not be practicable to remove some: of the restrictions complained of in the mode of collecting the tax.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

replied that he could not anticipate what would be the decision of the House upon the hon. gentleman's motion, of which he had given notice, for a continuance of this particular tax; but he had no difficulty is saying, that if it should be the wish of parliament to continue the present duty he hoped that some means might be devised for relaxing the restrictions which, arose out of the previous high duty, and which were considered necessary for the' preservation of the revenue. At all events, he should feel extremely anxious to try every possible means of relaxing the severity of the existing regulations; further than that he could not pledge himself.

Mr. Calcraft

rose to express a considerable degree of surprise at the notice which the hon. member for Norfolk had given yesterday. He did not at the time feel it decorous to animadvert upon that notice; but he rejoiced exceedingly at the present, opportunity of delivering his opinion upon the subject. He was astonished at the, attempt now to call upon them to break through a solemn compact, by which it was stipulated, that the present duty should expire on the 5th of January next. The way in which this notice was conducted, looked as if the hon. member had. some bargain to make for the public, which he deemed more useful than that to which the House stood committed, for the abolition of this tax. He was perfectly; astonished at the cool and calm manner in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer seemed to meet the hon. member's views. What were the people to depend upon, if this pledge were forfeited? What faith could the people be expected to have for any future act, solemnly promised to bed one by the parliament, if this pledge were so easily renounced, and this odious tax continued? And, for what were they to violate their pledge? For patronage; for it was idle to talk of getting rid of the machinery of the restrictions. They could not be got rid of, as long as the revenue continued to be raised upon the article. He was glad of this opportunity of early proclaiming to the House and the country the nature of the attempt which was about to be made. He was really astonished, that the chancellor of the Exchequer, who had hitherto conducted himself so candidly, and, he might add, so considerately, towards the country, should now appear in the slightest degree to lend himself to a breach of compact to which he was himself a party. The tax ought to be got rid of altogether. It was very easy to say that it was only two shillings at present; but the country might rely upon it, that if a particle of the tax were suffered to remain, a speedy opportunity would be taken, when the government wanted money, of adding to the present tax. Instead of 2s. it might again become fifteen.

Mr. Wodehouse

complained, that the hon. member had thrown out a hint, that, in proposing the continuance of this tax, he was acting in accordance with the views of his majesty's ministers. He denied the insinuation, and had distinctly intimated, when he gave his notice, that he was acting with hon. members at both sides of the House in his view of this subject. He respected as much as any man the faith of parliament, but he disliked the use of the word as a mere bugbear. The faith of parliament could only be formed upon a deliberate view of the whole question.

Mr. Bright

conceived, that the oppressions under which the subject laboured from this tax two years ago, ought to have been entirely removed by this time. He wished to know what alterations the chancellor of the Exchequer had made in the excise regulations regarding salt since the duty of 10s. had been remitted. Instead of telling them of the improvements which he hoped would take place, the right hon. gentleman ought to inform them Of the improvements which had already taken place. He considered that great benefit would be done to the fisheries by removing the remaining duties on salt; and he therefore trusted that measures would be taken to compel government to abandon them.

Sir J. Wrottesley

trusted, that government would remit the remaining salt duties. He never knew any measure which had given greater satisfaction to the country, than the remission of that part of them which had been already abandoned.

Mr. W. Smith

said, that though the existing duty of 2s. on salt had only been expected to produce 200,000l. it had produced 360,000l. during the last year. He did not think that any other tax could be devised, which would raise an equal sum with the same facility. He, nevertheless, would not vote for its continuance, if it were necessary to keep up the machinery for collecting it at the present expense.

Mr. H. Gurney

spoke in favour of remitting the remaining salt duties.

Lord Milton

felt considerable apprehension respecting the continuance of this tax, because he was convinced that no other tax could be equally injurious to the country. He referred to the great increase which had taken place in the consumption of salt, as a proof of the benefit the country had derived from the remission of the 10s. duty.

Sir M. W. Ridley

was of opinion, that the House, after reducing the duty of 10s., had nothing else to do than to reduce the remaining duty of 2s. It would thus strike salt out of the list of articles which were subjected to taxation. The tax on salt, in his opinion, placed fetters upon all liberal principles of trade.

The motion was agreed to.