HC Deb 26 April 1833 vol 17 cc678-89

On the Motion of Lord Althorp that the Order of the Day for going into a Committee of Supply be read,

The Marquess of Chandos

rose pursuant to notice to propose a Resolution on the subject of Agricultural Distress. The noble Marquess referred to the Budget of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in which he observed no adequate relief was proposed to be given to the suffering agricultural classes of this country. The full amount of the relief from taxation, proposed by the noble Lord to be given to the agricultural classes was not more than 33,000l. Tiles did not much concern that class, particularly as tiles used in draining at present paid no duty. Then there was no remission of tax pressing upon agriculturists but that upon taxed carts and bailiffs. These items, although satisfactory as far as they went, yet did not go far enough. Every landed Gentleman in that House well knew, that upon looking round about his estate he saw nothing but distress, which had now gone on increasing for some time. He did not wish to put the agriculturists above other classes; but he wished to see them put upon a level with other classes; that was all he desired, and all that his Resolution proposed. Year after year they had been told to wait for relief from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but each year found them where the last had left them in point of taxation. Speaking from his own experience, so far as the county of Buckingham was concerned, he could confidently state, that the agricultural labourers were in a state of great distress; and he knew of no means by which they could be relieved, unless something could be done to enable the farmer to pay good wages. If something to this effect were not done, a greater number of labourers must go upon the parish for support, and confusion would be the natural sequel. He only called upon the noble Lord the Chancellor of the Exchequer to dole out his relief to the agriculturist as well as to the manufacturer. He wished the noble Lord would show him where relief had been given to the farmer in any of the remissions of taxation that had taken place within the last five or six years. He well knew the difficulties the noble Lord had to contend against, and it was not his wish to embarrass him or his Majesty's Government. He was only discharging what he considered to be his duty in bringing forward the claims of a large class of his Majesty's subjects. He did not wish to keep the House from the business of the evening. He would not, therefore, dwell upon the subject at greater length. It could not be denied, that the agricultural classes were at present suffering much from distress, and that they were as deserving of the consideration of the House as any other class. Had he not taken the present opportunity of making those few observations, such was the state of the business fixed for the consideration of the House, that he should not have had an opportunity for two months to come. His Resolution would pledge the House to nothing further than the simple declaration that the agriculturists were as much entitled to relief from taxation as any other class. He did not see how such a Resolution could be objected to; and he hoped the landed Gentlemen in that House would at all events support him. He called upon them, and the Representatives of other interests in the House, to look at the state of the country, with a falling tenantry and a distressed race of agricultural labourers, and then to say whether they would negative his Resolution. The noble Marquess concluded by moving as follows;—"Resolved, That in any reduction of taxation which may be considered expedient, it is necessary that the interests of the agricultural portion of the community should be duly considered."

Mr. Robert Palmer

seconded the Motion, and assured the House that the farmers did really suffer severely from distress. It was quite as necessary that they should be relieved as that other portions of the community should have taxes removed from them. They required relief as much as the people of the metropolis, though they were not able to get up such a large meeting as that of yesterday. The noble Lord had only relieved the agricultural interest to the extent of about 36,000l. for that was the amount of the reduction on taxed carts and bailiffs. As to the other petty matters which were supposed to relieve them, he believed that they affected the farmers but little, if at all. He entreated the noble Lord to believe, that this Motion was not made with a view to embarrass the Government, but only from a knowledge of the absolute necessity of doing something for the farmer.

Mr. Cobbett

said, that all portions of the people required relief from the very heavy taxation which now oppressed them. All classes of the community were justified in making efforts to relieve themselves; but the question was, what must the Ministers do in order to be able to take off these burthens? At a county meeting in Kent, he had told the people that they must tell the Government what part of the expenditure could be reduced, and must be reduced, and that they would stand by the Government in its reduction.

Lord Althorp

said, that it was impossible not to agree with the principle of the Motion of the noble Lord. He could not, however, quite agree with the mode of reasoning of the noble Marquess, or of the hon. Gentleman, who appeared to think that there was no relief for the cultivators of the soil, unless taxes that pressed directly upon them were removed. He was not of that opinion. So far from it, he believed that taxes which pressed directly upon them would not relieve them nor the country so much as other taxes of a more general nature. On what did the profits, emoluments, and livelihood of the cultivators of the soil depend? On the consumption of their produce. Now the taxes the removal of which would most relieve them were taxes upon the productive industry of the country, which interfered with the means of the consumption of the country. His object had been to take off those taxes, the removal of which would give the most general relief to the country; for though the amount of the relief might not be great, the comfort of the country would be increased to that amount; and by so doing, he was relieving, not only the other portions of the people, but the agricultural interest itself. He denied, however, that the reductions he had effected had been of little use to the agricultural interest. He was certain that farmers would feel considerable benefit from the reduction of the duty on tiles, as well as that upon taxed carts and bailiffs. He had before now stated why he could not remove the Malt-tax. He knew not what tax the noble Marquess would have him remove.

The Marquess of Chandos

The tax upon the insurance of agricultural stock.

Lord Althorp

thought, that the taxes he had proposed to take off were much better selected than that mentioned by the noble Marquess. He could not object to the sentiment contained in the Resolution, but he did object to it when proposed as an Amendment upon the Motion he (Lord Althorp) had previously made. It would interfere with the progress of other measures.

Mr. Methuen

admitted the existence of distress amongst the agricultural classes, but agreed with his noble friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in thinking that relief might be administered indirectly by a reduction of taxation as well as directly. He knew of an instance, which he believed was one of many, where twenty-five manufacturing workmen came to an agricultural parish to burthen the rates, in consequence of their being thrown out of employment in the town in which they had been working. He thought that as the noble Lord had agreed to a Committee on manufacturing distress the noble Marquess should for the present withdraw his Motion.

Sir Thomas Freemantle

observed, that the noble Lord had saved them from the difficulty in which the hon. member for Oldham would place them, by himself admitting, that he had a surplus available for the reduction of taxation. The question then fairly arose as to what taxes in particular they should remove or reduce with this surplus. He could not agree with the noble Lord that to take a tax off one class was as efficient relief to another class as if the tax were taken off that other class, any more than he could agree that if two men were climbing a hill, and the pack were taken off one man's shoulders, that that would be the same relief to the other as if it had been taken off his. It was no satisfaction to the agriculturist when he asked to have the tax taken off the insurance of agricultural property to tell him that the shipping interest was greatly relieved by having the tax on marine insurances taken off. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had only thrown out a tub to the whale, and he hoped the landed interest would not go swimming after that tub. The agriculturists had exhibited the most exemplary patience under their distresses; and had it not been for the farmers taking up the Reform Bill and throwing their weight into the scale of Ministers, he could assure the noble Lord that that Bill would not have passed. They were now getting tired of the word Reform, which had done nothing for them. On that score, if on none other, the noble Lord, he thought, ought to do something for that interest.

Mr. Slaney

added his request to that of the hon. member for Wiltshire, for the withdrawal of the Resolution; but, at the same time, he expressed a hope that the noble Lord would grant the remission of the tax on insurances on agricultural property. A Bill, however, would soon be before the House—he meant the Bill for the commutation of tithes, which, he trusted, would fulfil the prospects it held out of affording great and permanent relief to the agricultural portion of the community.

Mr. Rigby Wason

thought the position laid down by the noble Lord (Lord Althorp) with respect to the effects of reductions in taxation so clear that no one could dispute it. He thought it the soundest policy to benefit the agriculturists by enabling the manufacturing classes to purchase more freely the produce of the land. He agreed with the noble Marquess in thinking, that if the noble Lord the Chancellor of the Exchequer should persist in his intention to reduce the duty on marine insurances, it would be only just, that he should take off the duty upon insurances of agricultural produce. If, however, his noble friend could show, as no doubt he could, that the effect of the duty upon marine insurances had been, that a great number of them were at present made in Holland, that circumstance would take that tax out of the rule which it was proper to adhere to, that no particular interest should be relieved unless the doing so would afford relief to the general interests of the country. This tax was taken off not so much to benefit a particular class as to prevent us losing a beneficial employment of capital. Let the House, he would say, determine to lay on a Property-tax, and then the agricultural interest might expect to obtain that relief which it demanded, in common with the commercial, manufacturing, and trading interests of the country.

Mr. Henry Handley

said, that as the Representative of a large agricultural county, he must state that the agricul- tural interest was in a most deplorable state of distress at present. Since the noble Lord had brought forward his financial statement he (Mr. Handley) had received several letters from that part of the country, expressive not only of disappointment, but of despair, in consequence of that statement. The agricultural interest had suffered a long time in silence; instead of exhibiting what had been termed "an ignorant impatience of taxation," they had displayed, on the contrary, an ignorant patience of it; but they would do so no longer. They saw that almost every day deputations from other interests were waiting upon the noble Lord, and they uniformly saw the effect of such interviews afterwards manifested in the removal of those burthens of which those interests complained. The agricultural interest were determined to profit by the example, and very probably some of these fine days he (Mr. Handley) should have the pleasure, in company with others, of waiting upon the noble Lord.

Mr. Cutlar Fergusson

said, that he for one approved of the Budget of the noble Lord. Whether the noble Lord might not go further in the way of reduction he would not now argue; but as far as the noble Lord went, he thought that the noble Lord had made a judicious selection of taxes for reduction; at the same time he must say that in the proposed reduction of taxes sufficient relief was not afforded to the agricultural interest. He would ask the noble Lord to give his favourable consideration to the claims of that interest. It was one, with regard to the distress of which the noble Lord himself admitted that there was no doubt, and, therefore, it was one which he should be most ready to believe. The noble Lord, according to his own statement, would, after the reduction of taxes which he proposed, have still a surplus of 500,000l. Now, under the particular circumstances of the agricultural interest at present, he (Mr. Fergus-son) thought that a portion of that surplus might be applied to the relief of that interest. The surplus had certainly been often risked before, under circumstances that called much less for such a sacrifice. Unless something was done, and that speedily too, for the relief of the agricultural interest, and for remedying the abuses of the Poor-laws, the land-owners, the land-occupiers, and the labourers would be involved in one common ruin, and the paupers would become the proprietors of the soil. He thought, at all events, that the noble Lord should give up the duty upon insurances upon agricultural produce. His doing so would afford a sensible relief to the agricultural interest. He would certainly vote for the Motion of the noble Marquess. In doing so, he disclaimed any idea or wish of embarrassing a Government which he was most desirous to support.

Sir Matthew White Ridley

said, that as the noble Marquess had held out as a sort of threat, that the farmers would know their friends by the division upon this Motion, he was anxious to state his reasons for voting against it. He was from principle, and from self-interest, as firm a friend to the agricultural interest as the noble Marquess, but he could not vote for this Motion, and for this simple reason—that he did not see any tax which was immediately pressing upon the agricultural interest, that could be reduced consistently with the maintenance of the revenue, so as to afford that interest effectual relief. His next reason for voting against this Motion was, that as the noble Lord the Chancellor of the Exchequer had given notice of the appointment of a Committee on the subject of agricultural distress, it appeared to him that the House should wait until that inquiry was terminated, and the Committee had made its Report, before it pledged itself to any particular course upon the subject.

Mr. Hume

said, he was as anxious to afford relief to the agricultural interest, as the noble Lord, the member for Buckinghamshire; he would, however, relieve it simultaneously with all other interests in the country. He confessed that he had been astonished by the speech of the hon. member for Kirkcudbright. That hon. Member was, it appeared, of opinion, that of all classes of the country the agricultural interest most required relief. Now, when Gentlemen talked so, they seemed to forget the monopoly which had been so long granted to the agricultural interest upon that most important of all articles—the article of food. For the advantage of the agricultural interest the people of this country had been obliged to pay for their food more than they otherwise would be obliged to pay for it. Every loaf of bread, every ounce of flour, and every ounce of meat, that were consumed by the people of this country, were taxed for the peculiar benefit of the agricultural interest. The amount to which the people were taxed for that purpose was, he believed, not less than 12,000,000l. a-year. At all events, the amount which the people had to sustain of the monopoly of the agricultural interest was extremely large. Before, therefore, the advocates of that interest put forward its claims in that House they should come there with clean hands—they should divest themselves, in the first instance, of that monopoly which they possessed at the expense of the nation at large. They were told much about the suffering of the agricultural interest, but all the other interests of the country were suffering as much as, if not more than, the agricultural interest. It was not, therefore, fair to hold up any particular interest as deserving of peculiar exemption. This Motion was not called for. If it should be carried, he would then move as an Amendment upon the main question, that instead of the words "it is necessary that the interests of the agricultural portion of the community should be duly considered "these words should be inserted, that" the interests of all classes of the community should be duly considered." He would do so on the principle that all classes were equally entitled to relief.

Lord Ebrington

said, that connected as he was with the agricultural interest, he must enter his protest against the assumption of the noble Marquess that those who voted against this measure were hostile to that interest. The advocates for this Motion were not able to propose any plan of relief for the agricultural interest that would be consistent with the maintenance of that good faith that was due to the public creditor, and with the maintenance of the general interests of the country. He would vote against the Motion of the noble Marquess, the effect of which, if it should be carried, would be to make an impression that the country was hostile to the whole of the Budget that had been brought forward by his noble friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He thought that his noble friend had done as much as he could in the way of reduction of taxation, taking into consideration what was due to the different interests of the country. At the same time he trusted that his noble friend would find it practicable, without any derangement of his Budget, to do that which would afford a material relief to the agricultural interest—namely, reduce the duty upon insurances of agricultural produce. Considering what had occurred in the country during the last two years, at which he should only glance, it was plain, he thought, that the reduction of the duty upon insurances on agricultural stock would afford great relief.

Sir John Tyrell

was not surprised at the attack which the hon. member for Middlesex had made upon the agricultural interest. He understood that the tenants of the hon. Member, on his property, in Essex, were offering premiums for farms on other properties, in order to get away from his. Such was the encouragement which the hon. Member afforded to the agricultural interest. He would cordially support the Motion. It appeared to him that those who expressed themselves friendly to the agricultural interest, and who nevertheless opposed this Motion, took an odd way of manifesting their friendship for it.

Sir John Wrottesley

said, he would not give his vote upon this occasion without some explanation. He was not for giving relief to any particular interest at the expense of other interests. He thought that all the interests of the country were equally entitled to relief. It was his intention if the Motion which stood for this night, on the part of the hon. member for Lincolnshire, for the reduction of the Malt-duty to half its present amount, should have been brought forward, to vote for it. [Sir W. Ingilby here intimated that he would bring it forward.] He (Sir J. Wrottesley) would certainly vote for it on these terms, that the House should consent to re-impose a duty on beer. It was his firm belief that the working classes derived no benefit from the reduction of the duty on beer, but that, on the contrary, the effect of that measure was that they had been deluged with poisonous filth.

Mr. Sinclair

cordially supported the Motion of the noble Marquess. He believed that, unless relief were speedily afforded, the landed interest would soon be on the verge of utter ruin. Much was said about the march of intellect, but the proprietors and the occupiers of the soil had to guard against the march of confiscation. His constituents were chiefly engaged in agricultural pursuits, and were distinguished by their intelligence and industrious habits; but they felt it almost impossible to contend against their present difficulties. In the last letter which he had received from Caithness, he was assured, by a public-spirited proprietor, that "agriculturists never were more depressed, and that unless public burthens be diminished, they must all stop payment." He should not at present discuss the sources of the pressure of which landlords and farmers were complaining, but he could not help considering the monetary system as one great and leading cause. Indeed the present distress and the present currency seemed to him as inseparable as the Siamese twins; whenever you look at the one, the other unavoidably stares you in the face. The success of this proposition would be hailed with satisfaction by the proprietors and tenantry of Scotland as an omen of approaching relief.

Sir Edward Knatchbull

said, that the opinions of the hon. Member (Mr. Hume) would not surprise this House, but they certainly would be likely to lead persons out of this House much astray as to the objects, and intentions, and interests of the agricultural portion of the community. He (Sir E. Knatchbull) was an advocate for the agricultural interest, but he never attempted to support it at the expense of any other interest. He sought for justice—he sought for right—he sought, as he was bound to do, for protection to the agricultural interest; but he sought for no monopoly, neither did he seek to enforce the rights of the agricultural interest with "unclean hands." The hon. member for Middlesex thought, perhaps, that he might gain some popularity by attacking the agricultural interest; but he could assure the hon. Member, that any such popularity would be of very short duration. No one could doubt but that the noble Chancellor of the Exchequer had promised a partial relief to the agricultural interests; he had promised a Committee to inquire into the nature and causes of their distress; and he had only to hope that the noble Lord would not fail in the full performance of his promise. From time to time a great deal had been said about the Corn Laws; he did not on this occasion wish to open that fertile topic of discussion; and all he would now say was, that he wished it could be fairly and dispassionately considered, while his apprehensions were that it could not. Upon principle he was called upon to support the Motion of the noble Marquess, and he only regretted, that in the remission of taxes proposed by the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, a greater degree of regard had not been paid to the agricultural interest. The remission of the tax upon tiles, and the half repeal of the duty upon soap, could not give general satisfaction, and he thought, that by this time, the noble Lord must be firmly convinced of it. The noble Lord, should recollect that up to this hour the agricultural interest had occupied but little of the attention of the House, although it must be well known that in times of peril and distress they were foremost in meeting with loyalty and cheerfulness the many burthens which were imposed upon them. These were considerations which should have their effect upon the noble Chancellor of the Exchequer, as well as with the House, and he hoped it was not yet too late for the noble Lord to reconsider his Budget, and if he could make any alteration in it, that such an alteration should be in favour of the agricultural interest.

Mr. O'Connell

said, that his hon. friend, the member for Middlesex, was greatly misunderstood, when it was supposed that he meant anything offensive to the advocates of the agricultural interests by saying that they should come there with clean hands. The mistake only exemplified the danger of using figures of speech, and certainly his hon. friend, the member for Middlesex, was more expert at figures of arithmetic than at figures of rhetoric. All that his hon. friend meant was, that the agricultural interest should give up their monopoly in corn before they called for relief. As there was as great agricultural distress in Ireland as in England, he would vote for the Motion of the noble Marquess.

Mr. Thomas Attwood

wished to know what was meant by the Motion of the noble Marquess. Did he mean to say that the Corn Laws did not afford sufficient protection to landowners and the landed interest? In consequence of the Resolution which was carried on Wednesday night, it would be impossible long to retain the Corn Laws. He would take that opportunity to give notice, that upon an early day he would move for the total repeal of all the Corn Laws, and of all laws of any kind—[Immense Laughter.] If hon. Members would wait till his sentence had been concluded they would have spared their laughter. He now gave notice that he would, on an early day, move for a total repeal of the Corn Laws, and of all laws the effect of which was to impose a duty upon the importation of the articles of food. He had had that notice for some weeks in his pocket, and he was determined at an early day to bring the Motion forward: while they had a restricted and contracted currency, it would be impossible to keep up the Corn Laws.

The House divided on the Amendment: Ayes 90; Noes 118.—Majority against the Resolution 28.

List of the NOES.
Aglionby, H. A. Lincoln, Earl of
Arbuthnot, Hon. H. Lygon, Hon. Colonel
Attwood, M. Manners, Lord R.
Balfour, J. Martin, T. B.
Baring, A. Maxwell, Sir J.
Barnard, E. G. Maxwell, T. W.
Bell, M. Nicholl, J.
Bethell, R. O'Connell, D.
Blackstone, W. S. O'Connell, M.
Blamire, W. Ossulston, Lord
Bruce, Lord E. Oswald, R. A.
Burrell, Sir C. Palmer, R.
Chaplin, T. Parker, Sir H.
Clive, Hon. R. Patten, W.
Cobbett, W. Pease, J.
Crawley, S. Perceval, Colonel
Curteis, H. B. Plumptre, J. P.
Curteis, Captain E. B. Rickford, W.
Denison, J. E. Ruthven, E. S.
Dilwyn, L. W. Ruthven, E.
Dugdale, W. S. Sanderson, R.
Duncombe, Hon. W. Sheppard, T.
Egerton, T. Simeon, Sir R.
Estcourt, T. B. Sinclair, G.
Fancourt, Major Smith, T. A.
Ferguson, Captain G. Somerset, Lord G.
Ferguson, A. C. Stanley, E.
Fielden, J. Stuart, Captain
Finn, W. F. Tennyson, Rt. Hon. C.
Fitzsimon, C. Trelawney, W. L. S.
Folkes, Sir W. M. Tynte, C. J. K.
Fox, S. L. Tyrell, Sir J. T.
French, F. Verner, W.
Gordon, Hon. Cap. W. Vincent, Sir F.
Greville, Hon. Sir J. Walsh, Sir J. B.
Handley, H. Ward, H. G.
Hanmer, Sir J. Wason, R.
Heathcote, G. I. Wemyss, Captain J.
Herbert, Hon. S. Williams, W. A.
Hodges, T. L. Windham, W. H.
Ingilby, Sir W. A. Yorke, Captain C. P.
Inglis, Sir R. TELLERS.
Kerrison, Sir E. Chandos, Marquis of
King, E. B. Fremantle, Sir T.
Knatchbull, Sir E. PAIRED-OFF.
Leech, J. Hall, B.
Lennard, T. B. Bankes, W.
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