§ Lord Althorp
moved that the House resolve itself into a Committee of Ways and Means.
The Speaker accordingly left the Chair, and it was taken by Mr. Bernal.
§ Lord Althorp
proceeded to address the Committee, as follows;—In pursuance of the notice I gave on a former evening, it is now my duty to call the attention of the House to my view of the present state of the finances of the country. I hope that hon. Members will reflect upon the period of the year at which I am now speaking—that I am about to advert to the prospects of the financial year, which will not in fact commence until two months after this period. Therefore, though I thus early invite the attention of the House and of the country to the subject, it is impossible to do it in any but a general manner; and it will be quite in vain for me to attempt anything like accuracy as to the amount of expenditure in the ensuing year. It may be asked why I have taken a different course this year to that which I adopted last year; and I will fairly answer, that last year there were various reasons which induced me to think it would be better not to introduce the subject to Parliament until after the commencement of the financial year. Among other reasons, one that mainly influenced me was, that if I had made my statement last year at the period I have now chosen, I should have had to state to the House that the surplus of the Revenue amounted to less than 700,000l.; whereas I was quite satisfied that if I waited until nearer the end, I should be enabled to mention a much larger sum. I could not, therefore, suggest those reductions which I was quite sure I 361 should be able to propose, without appearing to deduct from the Revenue more than would have been deemed prudent. For that reason I thought it would be better for me to delay my statement. At the present time I do not see reason to expect that any considerable change will take place by the end of the present quarter. Before I state what that surplus Revenue has been, I wish to recall the attention of the House to the condition of the balance of the receipt and expenditure during the last four years. At the end of 1830 the amount of the balance in favour of the country was 2,914,000l.; but several taxes, pretty large in amount, had been reduced during the preceding year, which did not come into operation so as to affect the Revenue until 1831. I think I stated—and a right hon. Gentleman not now in his place, I believe, entirely concurred with me—that even if in 1831 I had proposed no reduction of taxes whatever, the effect would have been, instead of a balance in favour of the country of 2,914,000l., the balance would only have been 700,000l. But I thought it right to propose a considerable reduction of taxes; and in consequence of that reduction, added to the reduction to which I have already alluded, there was a deficiency, at the end of the year, of about 700,000l. I was, however, not alarmed; I felt confident that the resources of the country were such, that though taking off particular taxes might at first produce a deficiency, the Revenue would soon recover. The deficiency continued during the April quarter, and at the beginning of April, 1832, it was 1,240,000l. The amount of taxes reduced was very small during that year, and, as I expected, the Revenue recovered, so that at the end of the last financial year, in the commencement of last April, instead of a deficiency, there was a surplus of 1,487,000l. Last year we again reduced a considerable amount of taxes; in 1831 and 1832, the amount of taxes reduced was 1,790,000l.; and, in 1833, it was 1,545,000l. When I state the amount of taxes repealed, I mean the amount produced to the Revenue previous to the repeal, and not the amount at which I estimated the loss; I mean the relief given to the country amounts to taxes which I have repealed. The whole reduction by repeal was 3,335,000l. in the two years. But notwithstanding these reductions, I am happy to say, that the balance on the 362 5th of January last, gives a surplus Revenue even larger than on the 5th April last, amounting to 1,513,000l, and upwards. This statement must, I apprehend, be satisfactory to the House, that notwithstanding our continued reductions of taxes, the constant operation of improvement in the other branches of the Revenue has been such, that not only has a deficiency been prevented, but that the surplus has actually been augmented. I do not myself see any reason why we are not to expect a continuance of this prosperity. I need not anticipate, therefore, any diminution of this surplus; but, in addition to the surplus, I have to inform the House, that, in round numbers, the estimates of this year, in comparison with those of last year, will be reduced by the sum of half a million. I hope hon. Gentlemen will recollect, that during both the two last. years, a very considerable reduction in the estimates took place; and they will not consider that we have been remiss in our duty, if the reduction of the estimates does not amount to more than the sum I have stated. The half million thus saved may, of course, be added to the surplus Revenue, and will raise it from 1,500,000l. to 2,000,000l. But there is another source from which we have a right to expect a considerable increase of Revenue during the present year, and that without imposing any fresh burthen on the people. The House is aware that, according to the arrangement that took place on the renewal of the Charter of the East-India Company, the mode in which the tax has been levied upon tea has been altered. It is no longer an ad valorem duty: though it was very capable of being collected in that shape while the tea was sold by the East-India Company, it would be very difficult to collect an ad valorem duty when tea is sold freely by a great number of merchants. Therefore, a change was made, as far as could be calculated at the time, viz. in June last, and the Revenue was fixed at a rated duty, pressing with the same weight upon the tea trade as the ad valorem duty. It must be evident to the House, that though that might have been the case in June, if the price of tea, from any circumstance (as I hope and believe it will) should be reduced, the fixed rate of duty will bear a larger proportion to the price of the article than the ad valorem duty. I believe that will be the case; but still the amount of duty, per pound, of tea, 363 will not be greater than at the date to which I allude. The effect, however, of this change, is material in another point of view: if, by bringing a large quantity of tea into the market under the old system, the price was diminished, the duty also would be diminished; but, according to the new system, under a rated duty, any increase in the amount of tea consumed, will produce a comparative increase to the Revenue. It may be said, that if we are to obtain a larger amount of duty from tea than hitherto, it would be a reason for reducing the duty; but looking at the general state of the Revenue, and at the different taxes to which I know our attention will be directed, I am not prepared to say that a reduction of the duty on tea ought to be adopted. At all events, from the cessation of the monopoly of the East-India Company, we may expect, the duty being the same, the tea will be reduced in price. But we are quite sure, that such will be the case next year, because the East India Company, instead of bringing to their quarterly sales eight millions of lbs. of tea at each sale, it is the intention of Government, in disposing of this tea, to bring forward nine millions of lbs. at each quarterly period. This, let me remark, is an object of great importance, totally unconnected with the general Revenue of the country. It will be of great importance that the stock of tea in the hands of the Company should be diminished as far as it can, so as not to interfere with the general trader in the spring of 1835, when he conies into the market. The change was not adopted, however, in order to occasion an increase in the Revenue, but on the broad principles of commerce. The average amount of the produce of the Tea Duty has hitherto been 3,300,000l.; that being the amount of the ad valorem duty on the 32,000,000 lbs. of tea annually brought into the market by the Company. Now, it is the intention of the Government to bring to market, this year, 36,000,000 lbs.; and no doubt the private trader afterwards will bring as much or more than 36,000,000 lbs of tea, and the duty upon it, instead of being, as at present, 3,300,000l., will be 3,900,000l.; giving an addition of 600,000l. to the Revenue, and making the total surplus 2,600,000l. I will presently state what I calculate are likely to be the resources of the country during the ensuing year; but first let me notice what additional calls upon it will be 364 made. The main additional call—indeed I may say the only one—is the money that must be provided to pay the interest of the loan to be raised for the grant to the West-India Proprietors. That loan, the House knows, amounts to 20,000,000l. sterling, and we cannot estimate the interest upon it at less than 800,000l. I have stated that the amount of the surplus Revenue, if nothing be taken from it, will be 2,600,000l.; but we are obliged to deduct from that the 800,000l. for the interest of the loan of 20,000,000l., which will then leave a surplus Revenue of 1,800,000l. I will admit at once, that no man who has heard me express my opinions on such subjects in this place would feel much doubt that I should say upon this prospect, that, having a surplus of 1,800,000l., a reduction of taxes ought to be made. But I hope and trust the House will not think I do little, if at this early period I propose only a moderate reduction. By looking back, at previous years, I think hon. Members will see the great importance of attending to one principle—and here I cannot but blame myself for not having sufficiently attended to it in 1831, for the effect of making too large a reduction in one year was, a considerable deficiency was occasioned on comparing the expenditure with the revenue. By taking a smaller amount, and proceeding gradually, if the House has the patience not to urge us on too rashly, I really believe, from what I know of the resources of the country, that, year after year, we may be able to afford the people important relief. I hope and trust, therefore, that the House will not press for anything beyond what I have mentioned. I am prepared to say—and I apprehend there can be no sufficient reason for my not saying, thus early in the Session, that it is my intention to recommend the House to reduce taxes to the amount of 1,200,000l. It is impossible for me not to congratulate the House on one point that I have already touched. This country and this House, for the purpose of doing a great act of justice—for the purpose of setting an example, which, I hope, will be imitated by other countries—were prepared to come forward and make an enormous sacrifice of 20 millions: at this price we bought the Abolition of Slavery. When we consider that, notwithstanding the effect of that determination, I come not to announce that an 365 additional burden of taxation will be necessary, but to state, that notwithstanding the sacrifice, we are still able to make a considerable reduction in taxation, surely I state what is a fair ground of congratulation on the great and unimpaired resources of the country. This must be satisfactory, not only as it proves the power and resources of the country, but, because it shows, though we were ready to do this great act of humanity and justice at almost any sacrifice, and although it should subject us to most inconvenient pressure, yet, that we are able to do it, without adding one farthing to the pressure of taxation. I do not believe the House will be much surprised, when I name the tax to which I mean to apply this reduction. At the end of last Session I intimated pretty strongly that, if the state of the revenue would bear it, I should this year propose the Repeal of the House-tax. It is my intention to make that proposition to the House, but, I must, at the same time, say, that with respect to this tax, on many points, false impressions have gone abroad. It has been asserted, among other things, that the House-tax is a war tax, and that it is a breach of faith to continue it. Instead of its being a war tax, the Act of 1808, by which it was increased, expressly stated that it was enacted as a permanent addition to the revenue. I need not also mention, that if I were to look at this simply as a financial question, I think there are other taxes the repeal of which is more desirable. But I have stated on former occasions, and I feel it very strongly, that it is one of the ingredients in the impropriety of a tax, that it is most exceedingly unpopular. Taking all the circumstances into consideration, and looking at the state of the revenue, I do think that the best suggestion I can make is, that the House-tax should be repealed. But hon. Members must recollect, that when I propose the repeal of this tax, it absorbs the whole amount of the 1,200,000l. No—not the whole—for considerable reductions having been made last year, the amount of the tax which remained was only 1,170,000l., and to this was to be added the saving upon the estimates. If the House be of opinion that this should not be the tax, I hope it will not press upon me the reduction of any other of larger amount. I do not say, that I should not be inclined to repeal one or two other taxes, but it is not desirable to state what they will be, until I 366 am prepared to bring in a Bill for the purpose; but, provided the revenue continues flourishing, as I expect it will, I hope I may be able to suggest certain regulations and reductions which, to a small extent, will still further lighten the public burthens. If, however, the House concurs in the fitness of repealing the House-tax, I earnestly hope it will support me in resisting the reduction of any large amount of taxation. It is not my intention, at the present moment, to introduce any Bill for the abrogation of the House-tax; I wish first to see how certain questions, regarding which notices have been given, are disposed of. I must take care not to reduce the tax until I am quite certain of those that remain, and I shall not reduce it until I am sure I shall not be forced to reduce others. I know that, in discussions upon these subjects, the House-tax and the Window-tax have always been coupled. They are both taxes upon dwelling-houses, but some objections always urged to the House-tax do not apply to the Window-tax. I do not admit that the House-tax bears really unfairly, though it does so apparently, upon the lower class of houses: it certainly applies rather to houses in towns than to houses in the country; but, be that as it may, the objection cannot be urged against the Window-tax. Since the year 1822, the amount of the Window-tax has been reduced no less than 1,466,376l. Thus great relief has already been given as far as respects the Window-tax; and the sum at present derived from it is 1,273,000l. If, therefore, the House has due regard to the wants and credit of the country, it will not add the repeal of the Window-tax to that of the House-tax. I should like, upon this point, to refer the House back to that year which, with all economical Reformers, has been considered the golden era—1792. I will compare what the taxes upon dwelling-houses produced in 1792, and what they produce now. In 1792 the tax on houses and windows amounted to 1,129,000l.; but when the House-tax is reduced, the whole of the taxes on dwelling-houses will not amount to more than 1,200,000l.; so that, at the present hour, notwithstanding the enormous increase in number, the tax on dwelling-houses will scarcely yield a larger revenue than in 1792. I think, therefore, that any demand for the reduction of the Window-tax, in addition to the House-tax, will be admitted to be unreasonable. I dare say I 367 shall be told, that in the proposition to repeal the House-tax, I am giving relief to the trading interests of the country, when it is admitted, and when Ministers themselves have admitted, that the landed interest is so seriously distressed. I cannot deny the force of that statement; and it will be for the House to decide whether it will adopt my suggestion or reject it, for the purpose of applying relief to a different interest by reductions of a different kind. But I would say this to the landed interest—that I do not think the pressure upon it arises so much from public taxation as from local burthens. If I remember rightly, that point was urged by my hon. friend who moved the Address; and for this reason, I contend that Ministers are not neglecting the landed interest, when they are about to introduce measures to relieve it from the payment of tithes. I am sure that hon. Members who cheer me well know what I mean. It is not my intention to abolish tithes—to get rid of the clergy altogether—but what I meant was this, that we propose to relieve the occupiers of the soil, by the commutation of tithes, from the vexation and annoyance to which they are at present exposed. This will be a relief, give me leave to say, from a very great burthen, as I am sure every man connected with land will be ready to admit; and, in making such a proposition, I shall be doing what is most beneficial to the landed interest, and more particularly beneficial to the occupiers of the soil. The other point to which Ministers have pledged themselves to apply their attention, is the amount of the poor-rates; and I assure the House, that if we are able, upon these two questions, to propose measures satisfactory to the House and to the country, we shall do more to give relief to the landed interest than the amount of advantage which we now design to give to any other class by the repeal of taxes apparently applying more exclusively to it. With respect to Ireland, I do not mean, at the present moment, to state the measure which we have in contemplation; but, I may say, that I have in view a financial plan which will give considerable relief to that country; and I hope, it will be so arranged as, at the same time, to occasion no reduction of the revenue. More I cannot state on this occasion: it would be improper for me to add more, before I am in a condition to detail the nature of the intended Bill. I have 368 now, according to my promise, stated my general view of finance. I began by saying, that I did not mean to enter into any details, and I do not pretend, in my statement, to have observed any great nicety and accuracy; but I have brought under the consideration of the House and of the public the general view I take of our financial situation and prospects. Having done so, I beg to put into the hands of the Chairman a Resolution—" That, towards the Supplies, the sum of 14,000,000l. be raised by Exchequer Bills for the service of the year 1834."
§ Mr. Robinson
said, that on the whole the statement of the noble Lord was extremely satisfactory, in as far as it indicated the condition of the resources of the country, although he was free to confess, that there were some parts of the noble Lord's speech, from which he differed. The first thing he must remark was, that experience ought to have long since convinced our financial Ministers, that the more the resources of the country were relieved from taxation, the more prosperous became the revenue of the country. It had once been supposed that the revenue was reduced to the amount that taxation was reduced, but that was now so well known not to be the fact, that he was surprised the noble Lord had not carried his reductions further. He asked the noble Lord why he could not apply the whole of the surplus revenue to reduction of taxation? The noble Lord, however, proposed to leave an untouched surplus of 600,000l.; but on former occasions, he had himself argued in favour of relieving the people from taxation to the full amount that the income exceeded the expenditure. Taking the general desire for reduction into consideration, he thought the noble Lord ought to apply the whole of the surplus to the reduction of taxation, for he must expect to be hardly pressed for many other reductions besides that which he had proposed. The noble Lord could not have expected that the House would be satisfied merely with the repeal of the House-tax; but if the Window-tax were also included, it was not to be disputed that some new impost must be substituted for a portion of it. The plan suggested would leave all the expensive machinery for the collection of the whole tax, while only half of it was abrogated. He had always looked upon both the House and Window-tax as unobjectionable in principle. 369 If fairly apportioned, they were taxes upon the property of the country, and bore peculiarly upon the middle classes; but the noble Lord might have found means to obtain the same amount by a more equal arrangement. He knew that many persons would be relieved by the repeal of the House-duty; but they were people who could afford to pay, and not the class of persons who required relief; on the contrary, those who would get relief by this measure, were the very persons on whom additional taxes might properly be laid, if the service of the country required additional taxes. It gave relief to people of large income, while it afforded none to the poorer classes. He would say, that more general relief would be afforded to the country by the reduction of the smaller class of duties, which were very vexatious, and ought to be repealed to the full amount of the 1,200,000l. which the noble Lord intended to take off the Assessed-taxes. He gave the noble Lord full credit for his wish to afford relief to the country. He was sure that the noble Lord was most anxious to relieve the people, consistently with his own views of what that relief ought to be. His views were different from the noble Lord's upon the subject; and he conceived, that those small duties should be taken off which were admittedly unfair and partial in their operation, and called loudly for revision. That was a course which had been suggested by the right hon. member for Dundee; and it would have been well to have followed it. By that, the lower classes would have been relieved, and many vexatious petty imposts might be done away which interfered with the trade of the country. He would not urge his views further at present. He believed the statement of the noble Lord would not give generally satisfaction to the country. His Majesty, in his Speech from the Throne, had stated that the agricultural interest was in a state of distress; yet no plan was stated for the relief of the agricultural classes. This was an anomaly in the measures of the noble Lord, which required a change. The manufacturing interest, which is declared by his Majesty to be in a state of prosperity, was to be relieved to the amount of 1,200,000l.; while no relief whatever was afforded to the agricultural interest, which was declared in the same Speech to be in a state of great distress. He was bound in 370 justice to say, that, in his opinion, it did the Government great credit, that they were enabled to reduce the taxes by half a million, notwithstanding the former reductions made both by them and their predecessors; and he was willing to believe that they were anxious to make every reduction consistent with the proper conduct of the public service. He thought the statement of the noble Lord fair and candid; and admitted, that the Government had redeemed their pledges of exercising economy and retrenchment.
§ Mr. Cobbett
said, that after the statement he had heard from the noble Lord, he rather wondered that the noble Lord should have made any statement at all; and, to him, it did not appear that there was any good reason why the noble Lord should have made one now, excepting it were to stop them from asking for the repeal of taxation. The noble Lord had spoken to see how many would cheer his statement. He spoke to sound them—to see if they would continue to bear their present burthens; for, indeed, the noble Lord was taking nothing from those burthens by reducing the House-tax, and to ascertain with what feelings they would continue to bear them for the future. The noble Lord had admitted, that the House-tax was unobjectionable in itself, and even just in principle. He agreed with the noble Lord that it was unobjectionable, and that it was a fair and proper tax; he agreed with him too in saying, that there were other taxes which were preferable to be taken off; but although he was a popularity hunter, as he had once been called by the hon. member for Hull, he would not have taken the House-tax off, if he had been in the noble Lord's situation. If he were convinced that the tax was a bad one, he would, perhaps, have taken it off at once, but he would not otherwise have taken it off after what had taken place. It was an encouragement to the people to demand the repeal of taxation; and the noble Lord might have remarked that he (Mr. Cobbett) never recommended the non-payment of taxes, either in speaking or writing. The noble Lord certainly encouraged the people, though he did not exactly recommend them, to demand the repeal of taxes. Now, they wanted the repeal of the Malt-tax and Hop-duties. He had at this moment some young hop-cuttings quite ready; and this he would say, that no excisemen 371 should ever touch those hops. "I wish (continued the hon. Member) to see the good old custom restored, of having a little malt-house attached to every farmhouse. I am determined that I will have a malt-house before next Michaelmas-day. The noble Lord may say, that he will send the exciseman to seize it. Will he? I will not allow the exciseman to touch it. But the noble Lord may say he will send soldiers to assist. I will then plant a battery of barrels of English beer at the door, and if the soldiers have one drop of true English blood in them, they will not go an inch further. We will all make malt. The noble Lord encourages us to make it; and that is much more rational and beneficial to the country, than the refusing to pay the House and Window taxes." He had cheered the noble Lord when he stated that he intended to relieve the landed interest; but did it look well, after his Majesty had spoken of the distress of the agriculturists, that the noble Lord should come forward with no proposition for their relief. The noble Lord had stated, to be sure, that the landed interest would be greatly relieved by the non-payment of Tithes. He knew that the noble Lord, when he said so, did not mean that the landed interest should not continue to pay Tithes—he merely meant that there should be a commutation of Tithes. Now, did the noble Lord mean, that after the commutation, the Tithe-owner should get less from the land than he did at present. That was the real question to answer. The name of Tithes was not the grievance, and it did not signify under what name the Tithe was raised. But if the commutation amounted to as much as the Tithes by name, there would be no relief at all; and if it did not amount to as much, it would be the taking away of part of the property of the Tithe-owner, unjustly, and without assigning a reason. In this manner it would be a robbery, a confiscation of property; and the noble Lord, with all his ingenuity, could not put a different interpretation upon it. It would certainly be a means of benefiting the landowner to take away the Tithes, but these Tithes were the property of the Tithe-owner. He would say, that thus taking the property of the Tithe-owner, unless the same plan were extended to the other classes of the community, and especially to the fund-holder, would be a confiscation of the property of the Tithe-owner, which the 372 House ought not to sanction. The Government had no more right to take Tithes than they had to take the coat off his back. One of two things would necessarily take place—either there would be no real relief to the landed interest, or it would be obtained by a greater pressure on the lower classes. How was the occupier of land to be relieved? He could not conceive. If the occupier of land had a lease for four years, it would be better for him to give up half his stock than keep it. Then the land would come into the hands of the landlord; but would the occupier get a better bargain? Certainly not, but a great deal worse; and he (Mr. Cobbett) would say plainly, that if he were a landlord, he should give the tenant a worse bargain. But there was another mode of relief in view. There was to be a change in the Poor-laws: but what change was it to be? Was it to give the labourers less than they had at present? No. Their intentions were very kind—they intended to make them more comfortable; but, some how or other, they meant to take something away from the poor. They must, however, have something. Did they mean to lessen the relief that was now to be obtained? They dared not attempt to do it. They would not venture to carry into effect the recommendation of the Poor-law Commissioners, or to leave the people to feed upon potatoes and salt, or upon garbage like dogs. He did not say they were going to do so—he merely put the case hypothetically; but he could tell them, instead of relief, it would add most enormously to the sufferings of the landlord. The country gentlemen knew this as well as he did. The labourers belonged to the land; and did they think that, by taking anything from them, they would relieve the farmer and the landlord? How, then, was relief to be afforded by this measure? There might be some necromancy in it—some conjuration, or some cavil about words; but if they attempted to do such a thing, he would tell them, that instead of being relief, it would be the greatest curse the House could inflict—it would increase the dissensions that now existed in the agricultural districts tenfold. If the peasantry were once driven to worse food than they had at present, the House would soon see, instead of the petty war at present carried on in the agricultural districts, a determined opposition to oppression.
§ Sir Robert Peel
said, that as the noble Lord had not gone into any details as to the state of our finances, it was not his intention to touch on any of them. He would, therefore, only refer to the prominent topics of the noble Lord's statement. The first point on which he felt bound to say a few words, was the great reduction of the expenditure of the country, or, more properly speaking, to that portion of it which admitted of reduction; for the great mass of the expenditure did not admit of reduction, consistently with the observance of national faith; and he must assert, looking to what had been already done, that the reduction in the estimates this year of half a million below those of the last, was as much as could be expected, and did credit to the Government. The noble Lord assumed, that he would have a sum of 2,600,000l. at his disposal. He made this out by,—first, an actual balance of 1,500,000l. above the demands of the year; then, 500,000l. was calculated as the amount of the probable reduction of the estimates of the present year below those of the last; but this could not be calculated upon as permanent revenue; for though circumstances might be such this year as to enable Government to make that reduction, different circumstances might arise next year which might render it necessary to increase those estimates even much beyond the amount of last year. The remaining sum of 600,000l. the noble Lord had calculated would arise from the increased produce of the duty on tea. That calculation appeared to him very vague and indefinite, and he could not see how the sum was to be made out. The noble Lord had said, that the difference would arise from the Government bringing 9,000,000lbs. of tea into the market at the quarterly sales of the tea in the Company's stores, instead of 8,000,000lbs. But did the noble Lord know, that the public would take the 9,000,000lbs? If 8,000,000lbs. were found sufficient for the quarterly consumption of the public hitherto, was it so certain that it would take the additional million? The noble Lord thought it would by a reduction of the price; but did it not occur to the noble Lord, that if the Government gained in the amount of the duty, it would lose by the reduction of the price? This tea was now the property of the public, as transferred by the East India Company with its other property; 374 and if the Government, by its mode of sale, reduced the price below what it would probably have brought in the Company's sales, would not the difference in the price be so much loss to the revenue? And that loss must be deducted from the gain which the noble Lord seemed to think the Government would make in the duty. This item of 600,000l., therefore, he did not think was, by any means, so certain as the noble Lord seemed to anticipate. The noble Lord thought, that 1,200,000l. was as large a sum as could be applied to the reduction of taxation, considering the sum of 800,000l. which was to be applied to pay the interest on the loan for the West Indies. He concurred in thinking, that 1,200,000l. was as much as could be so applied, and more, taking the precarious nature of some of the sources from which the whole surplus of 2,600,000l. was to be derived, than he should feel disposed so to apply; but he wished to ask the noble Lord, whether there were not some other matters for which provision was to be made, besides the West-India Loan? Were not the Clergy of Ireland to be provided for? He had not heard anything on that subject in the noble Lord's statement. The noble Lord said, he could not afford more than the 1,200,000l.; and, admitting that the noble Lord had only that sum to concede in the reduction of taxes, he thought that, consistently with keeping faith towards the national creditor, the noble Lord was perfectly right not to make any greater reduction. He would not offer any opinion as to the tax proposed to be reduced, but he must express his regret, that some reduction had not been made which would give relief to the agricultural classes. He would admit that those classes would derive some benefit from any improvement in the circumstances of the other classes with which they were so intimately connected; but when he recollected the distress which, in the Committee of last year on agriculture, was proved to exist in the agricultural class,—when he considered the great patience with which that distress was borne, and when he found in his Majesty's Speech allusions to excitement, and disobedience, and resistance to the law, which prevailed in some places, he could not but lament that the relief was given to the disobedient, and those who resisted the law, while the patient and submissive agriculturists got 375 nothing. He would admit that, as there was only the sum of 1,200,000l. to be applied to the reduction of taxation, it would be difficult to show how it could be employed so as to give relief to the agriculturist; but he was bound to say, that if it could be shown that relief could be given out of the 1,200,000l., it ought, undoubtedly, to be given. He would not say, that relief should be given at the expense of public credit; but if it could be given without injuring public credit, the agriculturists had a strong claim to it. At present, however, all that was done was,—that the towns got 1,200,000l., while the agriculturists got only a civil paragraph in the King's Speech. But the noble Lord said, that he had other plans for the relief of agriculturists,—there was to be a commutation of tithes, and a revision of the Poor-laws. Certainly, with respect to the first, the hon. member for Oldham, however just, had been somewhat severe in his comments. But he could at once convince the hon. Member, that the noble Lord could have no design whatever to introduce a measure of confiscation. It was impossible, indeed, to refer to the Speech delivered by his Majesty a few days ago, and imagine that any such notion was entertained by Ministers. His Majesty said: "I recommend to you the early consideration of such a final adjustment of the tithes in that part of the United Kingdom as may extinguish all just causes of complaint, without injury to the rights and property of any class of my subjects, or to any institution in Church and State." These words, the hon. Member would recollect, referred to Ireland—a part of the empire in which, from circumstances, it might possibly have been supposed that a system of proceeding somewhat different from that generally applicable would have been tolerated. But they found that, even in Ireland, the rights of property were to be duly maintained. It was not, therefore, possible to conceive that, in England, a different course would be pursued, and that, when his Majesty's Ministers promised to the landed interest relief, they would commence that relief by confiscating a part of the property of the tithe owners. Confiscation, therefore, was out of the question. The total amount of relief the commutation would effect could be easily stated. It would be a relief merely from a burthen small in amount, but vexatious from the form in which it was demanded. 376 He did not mean to undervalue the importance of the commutation; on the contrary, he was an advocate for its principle; but he contended, that it was unfair in the noble Lord to take to himself the credit of relieving the agricultural interest by merely introducing that principle. The agricultural interest would, of course, rejoice to be freed from the vexations attendant upon the levying of tithe under the present system, but they would much more rejoice in being freed from some of the heavy pecuniary burthens with which they were saddled. What benefit or relief would the holders of tithe-free land gain by the contemplated measure? None whatever. Nay, so far from benefit, if the principle of commutation was once adopted, their pecuniary burthens would be increased. At best, the plan of the noble Lord would give but a partial and trifling relief. Was the noble Lord aware that, in many parts of the country tithes occasioned no discontent? [" Hear, hear."] He repeated, that in many parts of the country the people were content to pay tithes. He did not mean to say, that the people would not be glad to be relieved from tithes altogether, supposing such a thing to be possible; but he asserted, that in many parts of the country the people would prefer the present system of tithe collection to that of commutation, because they believed that under the latter they would have as hard, and harder task masters, than at present. He did not, he repeated, mean to say a word against the principle of commutation; but he thought it was not fair of the noble Lord to expect the agricultural interests, in their present distressed condition, would be satisfied with so partial and so paltry a relief as the introduction of that principle would effect. He then came to that part of the noble Lord's statement which referred to the operation of the Poor-laws, and the promise that they should undergo alteration. Did the noble Lord for a moment think that that promised revision would relieve the agricultural interests from the distress they were labouring under? But, even if it did, did the noble Lord recollect the period of time that must necessarily elapse before that relief could take place? Could the noble Lord show, that the agricultural population would derive any benefits from an alteration in the Poor-laws' operation, which would not be participated in by the town population? The 377 burthen of the Poor-law system was as much felt in the large manufacturing towns as in the country. Would any man deny, that, in periods of commercial distress, the burthens were as great in the large towns as in the country? It was impossible to deny that; and, therefore, he contended, that the benefit to be derived from the new system would, in the present condition of the country, be common benefits alike participated in by town and country. He regretted the noble Lord had said nothing in the course of his speech respecting a tax to which the agriculturist was peculiarly subject, and which the noble Lord had, on the last occasion, in some degree promised should be removed: he meant the tax on horses and servants employed in agricultural labour. He hoped the noble Lord meant to keep his promise regarding that tax, which was both generally and justly complained of throughout the country. If the noble Lord could not altogether remove the tax on horses and servants employed in agriculture, he ought, at least, to put an end to the surcharges upon the agriculturist for occasionally employing them for other purposes. The right hon. Baronet concluded by expressing his hope, that the noble Lord would keep his ears open to the various suggestions that would be offered to him, with a view to the relief of the agricultural interests; and that he would not allow the Session to terminate without giving effect to the recommendations on that subject, which his Majesty had been graciously pleased to offer in his Speech from the Throne. His Majesty had then admitted, that the agricultural interests were in a distressed condition, and strong hopes that measures of relief and protection would be introduced, and had been in consequence excited; and it was needless for him to advert to the effects likely to result from their disappointment.
§ Lord Althorp
, in explanation, reminded the House, that he last Session expressed his anticipation that, in the present year, the Revenue would admit of the repeal of the House-tax, and now he was happy to say, that that anticipation had been realized. As to what the right hon. Baronet had said, with respect to the commutation of tithes, he was sure that every man accustomed to agriculture would agree with him, that nothing could be more vexatious than the way in which 378 tithe affected the operations of agriculture; and it was well known, that the payment of tithe in kind was attended not only with vexation, but with heavy and substantial loss. He could scarcely conceive, therefore, that any part of the rural population would not be materially benefited by the change he proposed.
must observe, that nothing had been done for Ireland; that, of the 1,200,000l. to be remitted for the benefit of the nation at large, there was not a shilling to go to Ireland. But the noble Lord then told them, that there was some plan in store for Ireland, but what it was he could not conjecture. All that the noble Lord had, with his usual clearness, permitted to be understood was, that Ireland was to pay as much money as at present, and still, that it was to be relieved. Relieved of what, he asked? No doubt of the balance. It was a pretty compliment to the intellect of the Irish people to tell them that they were to be relieved, while, at the same moment, the noble Lord intimated they were to pay as much in taxation as they did now. They were to have Irish relief; to wit, nothing. The noble Lord seemed to have some of those scales in his mind that a countryman of his (Mr. O'Connell) was possessed of, who, finding his horse was unable to carry himself and a sack of potatoes, in order to lighten the load, took the sack on his own shoulders, and then mounted his horse. He would not have the English people hope, that they would be relieved by the contemplated plan for tithe commutation. The plan had been tried in Ireland, and signally failed. Through its means land, which had been tithe free for many years, was deprived of its exemption, and brought under the operation of the Commutation Act. Agrarian disturbances too had increased fivefold in Ireland since the period that Acthad been introduced into Ireland. Let not, therefore, the English people deceive themselves with the hope that it would give them any relief whatever. The only real way to afford relief was to lessen the burthens by enacting that no man should be called upon to pay a clergyman, unless he wanted his assistance and advice. But what was the statement of the noble Lord as regarded the reduction of taxation? Why, in all, it amounted to only the peddling sum of 1,200,000l. What would such a mere trifle do in relieving the country?—Nothing. Would 379 it even give relief to the town population? He very much doubted that; but, at all events it would not give a particle of relief to the agricultural interests. There seemed to be some doubt whether the agricultural population of England was distressed, but he believed there was no doubt that that of Ireland was so. And how would the noble Lord's financial experiment remedy that distress? It could not even boast of the pretence of doing so. If the noble Lord really wished to relieve the country, to relieve all classes, whether agricultural or manufacturing, let him turn to the national debt. Let him reduce the interest upon that debt, from three per cent. to two and a-half per cent., and by that means, he would at once save four and a-half millions annually. He protested against the species of relief held out to Ireland; indeed, he might say, he protested against the whole of the noble Lord's statement, for it did not go near far enough for him. Let the noble Lord at once take off four millions and a-half from the interest of the national debt, and then, and not until then, would it be in his power to do justice to all classes of the community, by reducing the House and Window tax, Malt-tax, and several other of the taxes which were most complained of.
§ Mr. Hume
said, that if the right hon. Baronet had not made a most extraordinary speech, he should perhaps not have said anything. He had listened to the statement of the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and that statement was certainly plain and explicit. There could be no doubt of what the noble Lord's intentions were; but, however the righ hon. Baronet might believe the statement to be satisfactory, he did not think that it would be considered so by the country at large. The House seemed to cheer the proposed reduction in the estimates of 500,000l., and the right hon. Baronet contended, that that saving was as much as could be expected. Now, he saw that the amount which the noble Lord took last year for the estimates of the army, navy, &c. was 14,623,000l.; and, without entering into any details, he would say, that the proposed amount would be 14,100,000l. The noble Lord did not forget, that all these establishments were kept up under a sum of 4,800,000l. in the year 1792; but, instead of approximating that golden era, what was the fact? Why, that the expense was now three times what it then 380 was! Would the people of England, under these circumstances, suffer the Window-tax to be continued? He hoped they would not, but that they would take every proper means to point out to the Government how it might be done away with. Why should Ireland now cost the country 1,500, 000l. for the support of the army there, when formerly a sum of from 350,000l. to 400,000l. was sufficient for this purpose? It was because the Government would keep up that which was hostile to the feelings and interests of the country. The Ministers persisted in keeping up that Church establishment which had so long existed, in violation of the admitted public opinion in Ireland; and in order to do this, Ireland was made a mere garrison for troops, like a subjected province. Why, 800,000l. or 900,000l. might be saved by reducing the Church establishment to a proportionate scale as compared to the number of Protestants in the country. Let them have an establishment according to their numbers and their wants. Let them have what the Protestants of England had, and then apply the surplus funds of the Church to other purposes. The House would then have a fund which would enable them to remove the Window-tax. But he perceived, that there was a show of doing something, and yet little or nothing was done. He was glad to find that the Government would carry into effect the repeal of the House-tax, provided there was nothing else thrown in the way of the noble Lord. This condition was attached; but they had the pledge of the noble Lord last Session, that the House-tax should be repealed. Now, the noble Lord proposed to effect a reduction of 1,200,000l. by abolishing the House-tax; but it appeared, that the amount of this tax repealed last year was nearly 500,000l. Why, then, the "sum of 1,200,000l. was named 'he could not imagine, when the House-tax could not yield above 800,000l. It had been a matter of complaint, that the Government had not been treated with liberality. That was an extraordinary proposition to raise. Then the noble Lord said, that the landed interest was sorely oppressed. How unfortunate indeed was that interest! Why, they had the monopoly of the food of the country by the aid of the oppressive tax upon corn. It was a ruinous tax upon our farmers, from the uncertainty of prices which it produced. It led to alternate 381 excess and diminution of supply; and the currency was curtailed, when the import of corn was about to commence. But look again to the landed interest. They had been relieved from the payment of Stamp-duties insurance on their buildings, which was not the case with other interests; and why should the landed proprietors be favoured above all others? They often heard of liberty and equality; but they were outraged if the Legislature did not protect the civil and political rights of the people. The landed interest too were free from taxes on their agricultural implements; and, whilst all other classes were paying the House-tax, farmhouses had been exempt from that burthen. What, then, did they want? Did they require perfect relief from all taxation? The landed interest had a monopoly of butter, cheese, bacon,—ay, of every thing, down even to eggs! What else could they want? Were they to be the favoured few, and were all other persons to be taxed for their exclusive advantage? On these accounts he would say, that the appeal to the noble Lord was uncalled for, and be hoped that the noble Lord would not attend to it. If, however, he did, he would not act with justice to the other classes. He complained that the subject of the oppression of the landed interest was included in the Speech from the throne, though he believed that had been done to keep the country gentlemen quiet. He would put it to the House whether, with all the monopolies in their hands, it was fair to ask, on the part of the landed interest, for a further relief from taxation? Then the noble Lord argued, that the removal of tithes would give them relief; but no, said the hon. member for Oldham, (who he knew was no friend to capital). Did the hon. Member not know, that the present Tithe-law formed the greatest bar to the employment of capital for the improvement of the land? Did he not know that it formed the greatest possible check to the employ of that superabundant capital which existed in the country? Did he not know that at present it could not be beneficially employed? He would say that nothing the noble Lord could do would be more beneficial to the country than to effect a measure for the commutation of tithes, and he hoped that nothing which might be said or done would prevent the noble Lord from bringing about such an object 382 as soon as possible. He confessed he was surprised to hear from the right hon. Baronet that any part of the country was satisfied with the present system of tithes. In reference to this point, how different was the case in Scotland! There land of the same quality as that in England was made to yield twice, and sometimes three times as much as it did in England. Now, he could see no reason why, in England, we should not be allowed to proceed on the same footing with the cultivators of land in Scotland. A measure for the commutation of tithes would be one of the greatest boons which could be given to the country. The hon. member for Oldham seemed to think, that no alteration could be made in the Poor-laws without doing injury to the labourer. Now he (Mr. Hume) believed, on the contrary, that the Poor-laws while they were good in principle, were vicious in their administration. It would now, indeed, be an Herculean task to remedy the evils which existed, but if they were removed, the removal would place the labourers in a better condition than at present. Again, the landowners would stand in a better position, and every man would be benefited. Some held that if you took from one and gave to another, you did nothing; but he maintained that if they effected a saving to the landlord, they effected a saving to the poor man. So that both these measures would be beneficial. He would here advert to an observation of the hon. member for Dublin, who had stated that, whilst every landed proprietor had had his income reduced by one-third, the fundholder continued still to receive his dividends as heretofore. Did that hon. and learned Gentleman know how the funds had been reduced? (and the Ministry for the time being deserved credit for what they had done)—did he know, that where a man formerly received 5l. he now received only 3l. 10s? Was not this a reduction equal, or nearly so, to any which had been made in respect to land? But he hoped that the observation would not be listened to. If the prices of the day admitted it, then, indeed, reduce the funds to 1l. per cent.; but, if they began striking off, where would they end? He was anxious to give satisfaction to all classes. To the landowner he would say, he must take his chance with other interests; and so to the moneyed man. He objected to the observations which had 383 been made by the right hon. Baronet; for he did not give the question fair play: he wanted all monopolies to be vested in the landed interest. He must say, that that interest was the favoured one of the country. Why, surely, it was so; at least as far as it made us pay 8d. instead of 6d. for a loaf—and so in proportion for every thing we eat. Let the noble Lord and the right hon. Baronet be prepared on the 6th of next month to argue the case of the present odious Corn-laws, the repeal of which would effect more good for the landed interest, and for the country at large, than anything else. He was much disappointed in not hearing that it was the noble Lord's intention to effect a considerable alteration in our commercial relations. This he had certainly expected; and he wished that the noble Lord and the House would read the late address of the Bordeaux merchants to the Chamber of Representatives at Paris, in which they pointed out the evils under which the manufacturers and others in France suffered at the present moment by monopolies. They proved that every man in France—the ploughman, the highest to the lowest individual—suffered under the curse of high prices, and the checks which were raised against export of articles on which the country depended. They called upon their Representatives to remove the shackles which existed upon commerce generally. But he had been led to suppose, some time since, that a clear understanding would be come to on this subject, and that we should set a good example to other nations in such matters. Perhaps, however, the noble Lord would not object, on a future occasion, to lay upon the table the report of the Commissioners appointed last year. He could not but feel, that some difficulty had been thrown in the way, though reports had been made by the Commissioners who had been appointed. Though the changes which had been made by the Chambers in France were not great, yet they had introduced a Bill to remove, in a slight degree, the objections and obstacles which existed to free interchange between the two countries. But opinions had changed in France during the last year; and he knew that there was a general feeling to extend the intercourse between the two kingdoms. He was glad to find, that those who had hitherto looked upon England as the rival of France now 384 regarded her in the light of her ally. He, therefore, had expected, that the noble Lord would have entered into some explanation of what his views were on this subject. He had hoped, that the duties on certain wines would have been reduced and placed on the same footing as tea; in fact, allowed to come in upon an ad valorem duty. Now, Moselle and Rhenish wines, &c. were not drunk, and yet we might have a bottle of wine for 1s. Take 100 per cent. off the weak wines; let others drink expensive wines who chose to do so. An hon. Member below him, he supposed, thought of drinking nothing less than Champagne or Burgundy; but it was too bad, he maintained, to deny to another, or a poorer man, the opportunity of drinking weak wine, because the hon. Member and others had a taste for stronger sorts. He repeated, he was sorry that the noble Lord had said nothing on this matter, and that he had not given an enlightened view upon the subject; for the people of France had become aware of their error, as we were. With reference also to the timber duties, he had anticipated some modification of the existing law. Upon what principle was a man to pay the same price for bad that he would for good timber? Why should the Government levy a duty of 10s. on one description of timber, and 2l. 15s. on another? But this was done, he supposed, to protect the colonies. He, however, would undertake to say, that the whole of the shipping engaged in the timber trade might be purchased out altogether, and yet, in the first year, half a million saved to the country, if the timber duties were put on a proper footing. Of course, those ships would not be of much value which were not A. I at Lloyd's. Now, really, this was a question of great national importance. Then, as to the Corn-laws, if they were to have any at all, they might have a revenue of 1,000,000l. As to the scale of duty let it be a fair one. Why not have a fixed duty of 6s. per quarter, and they might then take off the Window-tax. Some persons thought that the land was the source of all value; but it was the manufactures and commerce of the country which gave the value to the land; and as they increased the number of changes of commodities, and gave the people cheap food, so it had a tendency to benefit the people, and place them in a better condition to buy their meat, eggs, 385 &c. cheap. In conclusion, the hon. Gentleman hoped that the noble Lord would take off the Window-tax and as many others as possible.
The Marquess of Chandos
said, that he had expected, from the manner in which the distressed state of the agricultural interest had been alluded to in the King's Speech, that the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, would have suggested some means of relief to that body. He would not at present enter into the question, whether or not the landed interest enjoyed a monopoly, as the hon. member for Middlesex termed it, but would content himself with assuring that hon. Member, that they desired no monopoly. He did expect, however, that when the Government were giving relief to other classes of his Majesty's subjects, some boon would be extended to the agriculturists, who were at present, from a variety of causes, in a very impoverished state. Having voted last year for the repeal of the tax on houses, he could not but feel pleasure at hearing that it was no longer to be exacted; and he trusted, that the householders having obtained that advantage, would not be jealous of the farmers, who were in circumstances of great difficulty and distress. He claimed for that class of his Majesty's subjects, not a monopoly, but the means of existence; and he should feel it his duty to bring their case before the House on an early day.
§ Mr. Cutlar Fergusson
did not mean to offer any opposition to the proposed reduction of the House-tax; but he must observe that, in his opinion, the question respecting that tax had never been properly understood. He did not look upon the House-tax as an improper mode of raising revenue, and he saw no reason why, if fairly regulated, it should not be more productive than it had been. Nor could he understand why the mansions of noblemen and gentry in the country-should not be assessed to the full amount of their value; and the true criterion of that value was, not the rent which such houses would bring, but the convenience which they afforded the owners for a display of taste and magnificence. In addition to this, the House-tax did not affect a single person who might be said to be in a state of want, or even to belong to the humbler classes. All houses under the value of 10l. were free from the tax, 386 and no labouring man could be considered as subject to it. Under these circumstances, in preference to repealing the House-tax, he would have taken off a portion of the Malt-tax, or removed the residue of the duty on soap. He thought the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, acted perfectly right in resolving not to reduce the taxation until he was certain that he could spare the money; and he (Mr. Cutlar Fergusson) should always oppose the removal of any impost, unless it could be clearly shown that the money was not wanted by the State, or that it might be supplied by other means. This he could state, that he never would be satisfied with the mortgage offered him by the hon. member for Middlesex, of church property in Ireland. With reference to the stock of leas now in the warehouses of the East-India Company, on which the right hon. Baronet had founded an argument against the statement of the noble Lord, he must say, that a great additional sale of tea might be anticipated in the present year, and that the noble Lord (Lord Althorp) was perfectly right in calculating upon an additional revenue of 600,000l. from tea. He begged to be allowed to allude once more to the question of the House-tax, for the purpose of entering his protest against the attempts which had lately been made to overawe the Government of the country with respect to that tax. He trusted that his Majesty's Government had not been induced by threats to repeal the tax on houses. For his own part, he declared that he would not allow the scenes which had lately been acted in the metropolis, with a view of overawing the Government and the Legislature, and obtaining the repeal of taxes by force, to have the slightest influence on his conduct. If the Legislature gave way to such proceedings,—if that House declared, that whenever individuals combined together for the purpose of compelling the repeal of any particular tax, the Government must, therefore, repeal it, there would be at once an end to the revenue, and an end to all Government. He might, perhaps, be told, that the imposition of an Income-tax would be a most excellent way of supplying any deficiency in the revenue. He thought differently. In his opinion the Income-tax was an odious, detestable, and inquisitorial tax; and he trusted no Government would ever again have recourse 387 to it. He joined with the noble Marquess in thinking, that relief ought to be extended, if possible, to the agriculturists; and he would tell the hon. member for Middlesex that, whenever he chose to bring forward the question of the Corn-laws, he should be ready to meet him on it. He concurred with the noble Marquess in expecting that the noble Lord would give some relief to the agricultural interest. He was prepared to show, in opposition to the hon. member for Middlesex, that the people, and particularly the poorer classes, instead of profiting by the repeal of the Corn-laws, which the hon. Member advocated, would, in the first place, be deprived of employment. It was admitted by the economists themselves, and expressly stated by Mr. M'Culloch, the most eminent among them, in the Edinburgh Review, that a large mass of agricultural labourers, amounting perhaps to 500,000 would not be able in his opinion to find other employment, though Mr. M'Cullock thought they would. These men would be converted into paupers, while, in consequence of the impoverishment of the landed proprietors no fund would exist for their support. He wished the hon. member for Middlesex to understand, that if he was not always replied to when he uttered tirades against the landed interest, it was not because there were not to be found Members in that House ready to enter the lists with him. In his opinion, the interest the least favoured of any in the country was the landed interest; it was subject to great and peculiar burthens. The hon. member for Middlesex cried out "Oh!" as if that was any argument. In spite of the hon. Member's exclamations, he would contend, that the landed interest had many grievous burthens imposed on them to which other classes in the State were not subject. What consistency was there, he should like to know, in the course pursued by the hon. member for Middlesex with respect to the Corn-laws? The hon. Member told his constituents out of doors, that the repeal of the Corn-laws would enable them to get bread plentifully and cheaply, while, at the same time, he was endeavouring to persuade the landowners in that house to consent to the repeal of those laws, by declaring that their abolition would not make bread cheap. The hon. Member's argument to the landowners was, the repeal of the Corn-laws will not make corn 388 cheap in this country, but will raise the price of corn abroad; so that if the people of England would only submit to be starved themselves, they would have the consolation of knowing that all the rest of the world was starved too.
§ Mr. Cutlar Fergusson
"I do understand the hon. Member better than he understands himself; and, whenever he brings the question of the Corn-laws before the House, I hope he will be prepared to rest his attack against them on some fixed principle." He was prepared to meet the hon. Member on his own ground, and to prove, that the Corn-laws created no monopoly in favour of the agriculturists; but he would not then enter into the argument. He would only observe, that the existing system was more favourable to the people than that which the hon. member for Middlesex desired to be introduced; for, while the hon. Member proposed to have a permanent duty of 10s. per quarter fixed on the importation of wheat, the average duty was not more than 6s.
§ Mr. Hume
begged to explain. He was always ready to answer for what he said; but he challenged the hon. and learned Member to produce a single speech of his, by which it could be shown that he had been guilty of the double dealing charged upon him with respect to the Corn-laws. He had always said, that the price of corn would fall by the repeal of those laws; and, if he could have uttered such a sentiment as that imputed to him by the hon. and learned Member, he should have been fit for Bedlam.
§ Sir Samuel Whalley
differed with the hon. Member who spoke last in opinion, on the burthens of the landed interest; for he was persuaded that the landed interest were troubled with no peculiar burthens, except, perhaps, the Malt-tax; though a great share of that infliction fell on the commercial and trading interest. Nor was it alone the agricultural interest which suffered by the Corn-laws; for it was owing to this burthen that a large proportion of persons were thrown on the poor-rates in towns and cities. As to the operation of the Poor-laws which had been mentioned, he,—speaking in behalf of the largest metropolitan parish,—could say, that he believed the main improvement which could be made on this point would be, to relieve the parishes from Magisterial 389 control. All the evils which were so loudly talked of, with reference to the Poor-laws, were caused by the abuse of those laws, and not their use; at any rate, he could speak as far as towns were concerned. He was grateful to Ministers for the relief from the House-duty, but he thought that this relief would not be appreciated, unaccompanied as it was by the relief of that tax of which the people, particularly the lower classes, most bitterly complained—the Window-tax; it was felt as a crying shame by every one, especially by the myriads of unhappy beings who were cooped up in the narrow streets of London and other great cities,—it was felt as a monstrous exaction, to tax them for the light and air of Heaven, so essential to them in every point of view. The noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, had held out hopes,—had almost, he would say, given a pledge at the end of the last Session,—that he would take off this odious tax, and the whole kingdom felt rejoiced at the prospect, and would be grievously disappointed at the non-fulfilment of this promise: he trusted, however, that the noble Lord would be able to take it off next Session; it was only deeply to be lamented that this relief could not be extended now, for he feared that the reduction of the House-duty, standing alone, would be looked upon, not as a boon or an act of grace, but as an act of half justice, tardily forced from a Government who, it would be feared, did as little as they could help for the people, and delayed that little as long as possible. It was, however, not a time to indulge in much more delay of this sort; for the same sort of spirit of opposition was commenced in the agricultural districts, particularly in Devonshire, of which one of the Cabinet Ministers was a Representative,—the same resistance to payment of tithes,—as there had been evinced in the metropolis, and other large towns, to the payment of the Assessed Taxes. The fires which so frequently occurred, were a proof of this spirit ["No, no!"]. But they were, and a very unequivocal one; in short, many of the agricultural districts were in a disturbed state. He would say, without fear of contradiction,—at least, of tenable contradiction,—that those districts were in a state of agitation; and that the payment of tithes was denounced with as much determined vehemence as was the payment of Assessed Taxes in any part of the metropolis. 390 It was easy to say, "no, no;" but it was not so easy to bring proofs that his statement was erroneous. There was, on the contrary, every demonstrable proof how correct he was,—the sentiments universally delivered at all public meetings, the practical demonstrations of incendiarisms, with similar proofs. He could hot conclude without earnestly pointing out to the House the necessity of paying more attention to the claims of the people than had been hitherto accorded. He trusted the House would not persevere in evincing their former indifference to the wishes of the people; that they would not continue! as they had been, under the control of his Majesty's Ministers, which subservience, had had the unhappy effect of inducing the people to look solely to these Ministers for relief, withdrawing all their confidence and trust in the Parliament itself,—for he had found, at every public meeting, the greatest indisposition evinced to petition the House itself, the assemblies I in all cases thinking it unnecessary to look to any other source of relief than the King or the Ministers. Now, nothing could be more fatal than for the House to delegate their power to Ministers. Being, as they were, the sole guardians and dispensers of the public money, they ought never to have the people's confidence so withdrawn from them as to have petitions, on the subject of taxation, addressed to any other than themselves. The people, he believed, had every confidence in Ministers; but the latter had obtained this confidence at the expense of the House of Commons; for be believed that, at no time, had the people less confidence in a House of Commons. He trusted, however, that they would give the people reason to restore their confidence to its right place, by doing away with the Window-tax—a tax most oppressive and impolitic. He trusted that, for a paltry million of pounds,—yes, he repeated, he trusted that, for a paltry million of money, they would not make a million of men discontented. Without the additional relief from the Window-tax, he feared the relief from the House-duty would be received with very great indifference.
§ Sir John Tyrell
said, that, as an agricultural Member, he could not allow the observations of the hon. member for Marylebone to pass without comment. He thought it very unfair for that hon. Member to state, that the English farmers urged on the peasantry to incendiarism. If such 391 a remark had been made by any gentleman possessing more influence in that House than the hon. member for Marylebone, it certainly would have had greater effect out of doors. In his opinion, the agricultural interest had a right to expect that some relief should be afforded them by Government. The agricultural interest had great and deep cause to complain. It had been insisted, that they enjoyed a monopoly of the food of the country. He hoped that the hon. member for Middlesex, with all his knowledge of rural affairs, would himself come prepared, when he entered the arena with the hon. and learned member for Kirkcudbright, to produce a statement of the protection which was now given to the manufacturing interests. In 1823, it appeared that no less than forty or fifty articles of manufacture were protected by duties of no less than from twenty-five to fifty per cent; while the protection extended to the agricultural interest, which was so much talked of, did not extend beyond ten per cent. It was incumbent, at all events, on those who clamoured for free trade in corn, to provide, that the protection now enjoyed should, on the oilier hand, be discontinued to manufactures. There were many peculiar and heavy burthens which the farmer had to pay, such as gaol-rates, county-rates, surveyors' rates, and repair of roads' expenses, which seemed to have escaped the attention of the hon. member for Marylebone and others who had attacked them. Besides, it was not to be forgotten that the manufacturer, after having failed in his speculations, invariably was found to fall back at last on the land. He did think that the noble Lord had not done justice to the agricultural interest in excluding it, in its depressed state, from all share of relief.
§ Mr. Benett
deprecated the attacks which had been made upon the agricultural portion of the community by several hon. Members who had taken part in the Debate. Had they known the character of the British farmers as well as he did, they would not have brought such charges against them. They had been charged with combining, and urging on their labourers to excess; but what was the fact? They had never, at any time, combined even for their own protection or mutual advantage, much less for the purpose of evading the law, or to urge others on to the commission of crime, while they had always been most diffident, and had shown 392 a great deal of moderation in making known their grievances and depressed condition through the medium of petitions to that House. He denied that any combination existed among the labourers at present. Sure he was, there was none among the farmers. They did not pay tithes readily, but they did not resist the payment of them; they paid taxes when they had ability, and did not complain when force was sometimes used for the purposes of distraint. 1,200,000l. was proposed to be remitted to the manufacturing districts; he should have been most happy to have heard of one-half of that sum being applied towards relieving the agricultural interests. As to the House-duty, he must say, that he considered it one of the very best taxes. A Property-tax might be difficult of assessment, but there was no such difficulty in the management of the House-tax. However, the noble Lord seemed determined that it should now be repealed; and although he was sure that the noble Lord would be the last man to give way to clamour, yet had he been in the noble Lord's place, he would, most undoubtedly, in the present instance, have refused to give up this particular tax; for, certainly, it would be ascribed, in some quarters, to a yielding, on the noble Lord's part, to the popular clamour which had of late been raised against it. As to the Corn-laws, he would reserve his opinion for another opportunity; and he hoped the hon. member for Middlesex would also reserve his attacks on the farming interests until he should meet the hon. and learned member for Kirkcudbright. He congratulated the House and the country on the surplus already declared by the noble Lord, but could not help repeating the regret he felt that some portion of it had not been applied in relieving the distress of the landed interests.
observed that the hon. Member who had just sat down, had stated that the House-tax was the same as a Property-tax. Did the hon. Member mean seriously to contend, that the House-tax, as now assessed, could, in any fair sense of the words, be called a Property-tax? Supposing it, however, to be a Property-tax, he (Colonel Evans) objected to it, because it was unequally levied. The houses of the tradesmen were taxed almost to extortion, while the mansions of the wealthy were left almost untouched. It was on 393 this ground that he objected to the tax. The speech of the hon. Member was on e of the most reason able agricultural speeches he, (Colonel Evans) had ever heard. He must, however, observe, so long as we had so many monopolies, we should see this clashing between the agricultural and commercial interests. On this ground he contended, that there ought to be a general revision of our system of taxation. The right hon. member for Tamworth had observed, that the poor-rates pressed more heavily on the agricultural classes than on the town population. He, however, believed that, on a full examination of the subject, the facts would not bear out the right hon. Baronet's statement. It would be found that the towns paid as much, or more, to the poor-rates as the country. He objected to the plan of the noble Lord, because, while he removed half the tax, he retained all the machinery. That was one objection which he felt to it. He had another objection to it. He thought that, by an equitable adjustment, which he would presently suggest, the tax might have been taken off. The legacy-duty fell wholly on personal property. Let a corresponding tax be put on real property, and then the noble Lord might get rid of the House and Window-tax altogether, and at once. The noble Lord had spoken of the means which had been resorted to for the purpose of influencing the Government, and of the intimidation which had been attempted. This argument he (Col. Evans) thought was the very last which ought to be mentioned in this House, seeing that what was called the Reformed Parliament, had been obtained entirely by what was done out of doors.
expressed his sincere regret that the noble Lord, in his financial statement, had not announced his intention to repeal some of those duties which more especially pressed on the commercial and agricultural interests of the country. The agriculturists were in a state of extreme destitution and distress; but the noble Lord proposed nothing by which any sort of relief could be afforded to them. The noble Lord ought, in his opinion, to have paid some degree of deference to the deliberate vote of last Session—but of which he procured the reversal—respecting the malt-tax. The noble Lord ought to have come forward and proposed to the House the repeal of that 394 tax, which would have given most material relief, not only to the agricultural, but also to the manufacturing interests, and especially to the labouring and industrious classes of the community. He protested against the attack made by the hon. member for Middlesex on the fanners of England. The proprietors of land, that valuable class in the country, were suffering the greatest degree of depression, having gradually fallen from respectability, independence, and enjoyment, to one of decay and destitution; and it was the paramount duty of the House and of Government to pay special attention to their state and the protection of the agricultural interests, since on those all others were based, and by them protected; thus furnishing at once a decisive index of the real prosperity and independence of the country.
had been surprised to hear the hon. member for Oldham declare, and much more to hear the right hon. Baronet (Sir Robert Peel) repeat, that no relief could be extended to the agricultural interest by an equitable commutation of tithes; that it would merely shift the burthen, and give no real substantial relief, unless it was procured by means of robbery and spoliation. But if an equitable commutation of tithes should be effected, as he hoped it would, a tax on production must be removed, a greater quantity of capital would be applied to the soil, which would produce a much more abundant supply than while subject to that tax, therefore, there would be more wealth to divide, and though the tithe-proprietors would not get less, the agriculturist and cultivator would get more. It had been said that the relief of taxation would not relieve the land. The noble Lord proposed to relieve the land, and the only possible means by which it could be effected, was by taking off those local burthens which were the real causes of agricultural pressure. The price of corn was now above what it was in 1790; and why was agriculture more depressed now than at that period? Because the local burthens were greater. It was now proposed to reduce those burthens, and that was the only means by which relief could be administered. It had been said by the hon. member for Oldham, and reiterated by the right hon. Baronet, the member for Tam worth, that an amendment of the poor-law would not relieve the land. He 395 believed it would, and relieve it most materially. They might diminish the poor-rate by causing those who were now total paupers to become efficient labourers, who, in creating an increased produce, would receive as the result of their labour what they now enjoyed as poor-rate.
§ Mr. Harvey
observed, that the noble Lord (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) had shown, in his financial exposition, more of the dexterity of a politician than the firmness of a statesman. He ought to have stated at once what the plans of Government were, but, instead of that, the noble Lord had left the matter to be settled by the conflict of two rival parties, the representatives in that House of the agricultural and manufacturing districts. The noble Lord had given notice that he intended to establish the Westminster races, and that there was 1,200,000l. to run for. This was thrown on the arena of political contention; the two opposing interests in that House were left to balance their strength, and the nobly Lord probably hoped that, while they were fighting for it, one-half of the Session might be got over, as quietly as possible. This was a course of procedure which was not consistent with the character and ability of a statesman. There was one party who appeared to have no advocates, and for whom no sympathy was felt in that House—he meant the people. Not only would the people numerically enjoy no advantage under the proposed scheme of the noble Lord, but 600,000l. by way of a tea-tax, would be imposed on them, additional to what they now endured. On the great national question of the Corn-laws he would reserve himself to another opportunity, when its whole bearings would, he trusted, be deliberately canvassed by the House; he only rose for the purpose of stating that, if the noble Lord (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) had repealed the Malt-tax, and imposed an additional duty on gin and other spirits, he would have given much more real, practical, and lasting relief to the people than could ever be expected to accrue from the reductions he now proposed to carry into effect.
§ Lord Morpeth
did not seriously repine at the peculiar selection for relief which the noble Lord (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) had chosen to take on the present occasion; there were circumstances of policy, as well as financial considerations, which had justified his noble friend 396 in the line he had pursued. At the same time, he hoped, that, at the earliest possible period, his noble friend would direct his attention to the reduction of those burthens which pressed most heavily on the labouring classes of society,—such as taxes on the raw materials, on cotton, wool, cloth, and the articles employed in their production. The energies of our commerce and manufactures were so elastic and vigorous, that any relaxation of the weights that now pressed on them would give material and seasonable relief, while it would tend greatly to quicken, disencumber, and assist their movements. His own opinion was, that great advantage would also result from a material alteration in the Corn-laws. But as they could not be sure that they were at present on the eve of obtaining it, it was surely wise to secure, at all events, as far as they could, all collateral helps. After the announcement which was made at the close of last Session, he had considered the repeal of the House-tax as virtually decided, but, he trusted, whenever his noble friend was able to carry into effect any further reduction of taxation, he would address himself to those burthens which weighed most heavily on actual industry in preference to the Window-tax, which, if impolitic in one view, was certainly not liable to the same amount of objection as the House-tax, and which, in a pretty fair proportion, was within the means of those who incurred it. He was disposed very much to question the policy of any commutation of direct and indirect taxation, because all considerable changes in the present system could hardly take effect without producing more than a corresponding inconvenience in financial arrangement, if not in productive amount; but, between two actual existing operating imposts there could be no question that the first to be abandoned was that which affected most immediately the more indigent and industrious classes. He congratulated his noble friend on the faithful and satisfactory account he had given of his stewardship; and he hoped that, in coming years he would be enabled to bear the same testimony to a growing increase in the revenue, a progressive improvement in the condition of the people, and that practical tranquillity which was no less necessary to the developement of the unrivalled national resources of the country.