HC Deb 10 March 1825 vol 12 cc986-90
Colonel Davies

rose, in pursuance of notice, to move for a committee to inquire how far the duties on several articles of foreign produce might be reduced, without detriment to the revenue. He trusted that if he proved to the chancellor of the Exchequer that, by the reduction of duties on the several articles he should name, the revenue would be increased by the increased consumption, the right hon. gentleman would not object to his motion. The right hon. gentleman had already proposed certain reductions on wine and other articles, for which the country were indebted to him; but, if one great object in some of those reductions was the prevention of smuggling, he thought it would be effected to a much greater extent by the reduction of the duty on tobacco than of that on wine. It was lamentable to perceive the extent to which smuggling had been carried on our coasts, and the evils which had flowed from it. Bloodshed, fraud, and perjury, were in its train; and they would continue to mark its progress, as long as it held out such temptations of large profits as it at present afforded. To prove this assertion, he referred to a correspondence which he had recently had with a magistrate of Sussex, on the fatal effects of smuggling, and also to various sanguinary affrays which had lately taken place in that district. He contended that the greatest revenue which could be procured would be no compensation for the dreadful price at which it was now collected; and that the only way of remedying the mischief was, by repealing the enormous duties which gave rise to it. If the duties on the importation of foreign spirits were lowered, they would not only get rid of this evil, but also of the expense of the preventive service, which amounted to 322,000l. a year, and of several vessels of war which were kept on the look-out at sea. He really believed that the revenue would-be increased by such a reduction; and he founded that belief on certain parliamentary returns, which showed that, as the duties had been increased, the revenue derived from them had progressively fallen off. The hon. member here read a detail of figures to prove the position be had advanced, and showed from it that at this time, when the duties were higher than they were in 1805, the revenue derived from them did not amount to the same sum. He would not pretend to say what amount of reduction ought to be fixed on, but he thought that the golden mean would be found somewhere about the amount of duty existing in 1805; a year which had been more propitious than any other to this department of the public revenue. He likewise complained that smuggling was much encouraged by the enormous duties levied on tobacco, which amounted to full 100 per cent on its intrinsic value. Though the population had much increased since 1801, the consumption of tobacco did not exeed the consumption of it at that time. In Ireland the case was still worse. The population had increased, within that period, from four millions and a half to seven millions; but though the population had increased one-half, the revenue derived from tobacco had decreased one-half. The commissioners of Inquiry had recommended the reduction of the high duties in Ireland. Smuggling was so much encouraged by them, that during their continuance nothing would put an end to it but hermetically sealing the coast. He then went into a history of the tea duties; stated the amount of revenue which they had produced, both when they were high and when they were low; showed that the consumption had regularly increased as they had been diminished, and diminished as they had been increased; described the effect of returning to lower duties; and contended, that it would be in every respect advantageous to the country. He calculated that the augmentation in the consumption of the three articles which he had mentioned, and the diminution of the expense of collecting the revenue upon them, which would ensue from a reduction of the duties, would produce a saving of 400,000l.; but even if they produced no saving, it would be right to make them, since they would put an end to smuggling, and thereby produce good order and tranquillity in the country. With these impressions, he should move, "That a select committee be appointed, to inquire how far the duties on the importation of foreign spirits, tobacco, and tea, may be reduced without injury to the revenue."

Mr. Curteis

seconded the motion, because he wished to see an effectual check given to smuggling, which had produced much slaughter and bloodshed in the county in which he resided.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that if he differed in principle from the hon. member, or if he disputed the substance of the propositions which he had advanced, he should address the House at greater length than he now intended to do. The hon. member had done him no more than justice, when he described him to be most anxious to alleviate the evils arising from smuggling. He thought that the measures which he had introduced into parliament this session would go along way to produce that effect; and he therefore could not consent to allow them to be taken out of the hands of government, and to be transferred to the management of a committee. He agreed with the hon. gentleman, that when the duty imposed on an article bore no proportion to its intrinsic value, the reduction of it did not injure the revenue to the degree which might a priori be expected, in consequence of the large increased consumption which it occasioned. He had admitted that principle in the reductions which he had proposed on the duties on silk last year, and in those which he had proposed on the duties on wine this year. He considered that he had driven the smuggler from a strong outwork, when he had obtained the reduction of the silk duties; and he thought that he was attacking him in his strongest fortress, when he proposed a reduction in the duties on foreign spirits. Some smaller redoubts would be carried in a few days by certain minor propositions which his right hon. friend near him (Mr. Huskisson) intended to introduce; and he had no doubt that government would, in a short time, be able to introduce such a change into our fiscal regulations, as would greatly diminish the propensity to smuggling. As the government had taken up this subject, and as no reason had been shown why it should be withdrawn from their investigation, he thought he should best discharge his duty by objecting to the motion.

Mr. Bright

agreed in most of the propositions which had been laid down by the right hon. gentleman; but he thought he might carry his reductions still further than he proposed to do, without inflicting any injury upon the revenue. For instance, why not reduce the duties on tobacco? They were so high as to afford an absolute encouragement to smuggling. The right hon. gentleman had talked of the redoubts and fortresses of the smuggler. Was he aware, that tobacco was his very citadel? In Ireland, these duties had led to smuggling in the most open and extensive manner, as was proved by the 10th report of the commissioners of Inquiry into the abuses of that country. He entreated the right hon. gentleman to attend to the recommendation it con- tained, and to reduce the high duties now imposed on the importation of tobacco.

Mr. Hume

considered, that the chancellor of the Exchequer had fallen short of his own principles, in not reducing the duties on tobacco, in which such extensive smuggling prevailed. Ministers, by not interfering, incurred a great responsibility.

Mr. Hart Davis

said, that if the duty on tobacco was lowered to 2s., the revenue would be doubled in England: while in Ireland, it would be fourfold. He hoped the chancellor of the Exchequer would make tobacco the very next article for reduction. With reference to the fair trader, the right hon. gentleman must see, that there was no choice left between the ruin of his character and the ruin of his family.

Alderman Bridges

said, that smugglers made their calculations as accurately as any merchants. He did hope that the right hon. gentleman would turn his attention to those duties which now served as bounties to the contraband traders.

Mr. Trant

approved of the cautious course taken by the chancellor of the Exchequer in the repeal of the taxes.

Mr. Hobhouse

strongly recommended the immediate reduction of the duties on tobacco, and on the other articles to which his hon. friend had adverted. He was exceedingly desirous that the subject should be investigated by a committee; because it was well known, that in cases connected with the revenue, evidence came out before a committee which might be withheld from a chancellor of the Exchequer.

Mr. Huskisson

felt it his duty to oppose the motion. As to the prevention of smuggling, he was persuaded that that object would be more forwarded by the reduction of the duties on spirits, than by the reduction of the duty on tobacco.

The motion was negatived without a divison.