HC Deb 19 February 1834 vol 21 cc549-55
Lord Henniker

presented a petition, signed by 1,600 of the inhabitants of the hundred of Hoxne, praying, that the Malt-tax might be repealed. They complained of the great agricultural distress of the country, which they attributed, in a great measure, to the Malt-tax, and other taxes bearing on agriculture. He fully concurred in the statement of the agricultural distress, and in the general prayer of the petition.

Mr. Sinclair

said, that the rent of land was everywhere falling, and, notwithstanding the reduction of rent, the prosperity of the farmers was not on the increase. It would astonish the agriculturists of Scotland not a little, when they found those classes who were declared to be in a state of prosperity, were receiving that relief from taxation which was withheld from another class who were said not to be in a flourishing condition.

Captain Yorke

would be very happy to give relief of any description; but he looked with great suspicion upon the repeal of the Malt-tax, as a mode of giving relief to the agriculturists. He questioned much whether, in the end, it would give relief, as he felt that, if the Malt-tax were repealed, there must be some other tax placed upon property in general in its stead. There had been for some time a powerful party in that House who were looking for an opportunity to advance their own interests—he meant the manufacturers—who would have this argument against the agriculturists—namely, that as soon as the Malt-tax was taken off, it would be a reason for importing corn duty free. For this reason he questioned, whether the repeal of the Malt-tax would give substantial relief to the agricultural interests.

Mr. Ruthven

was aware of the great distress that prevailed in the agricultural class; it was communicated to the House by the Speech of his Majesty; but there was no use in suggesting remedies by taking off the Malt, or Window, or House-taxes; the great debt of the nation should be reduced; the interest of that enormous debt should be lowered; for otherwise nothing could avert the general calamity that was impending over the country.

Mr. Hardy

was of opinion, that the Malt-tax should be repealed, and an additional tax laid on spirituous liquors—the consumption of which was so general, and the bad effects of which were so universally felt. It was for the interest and happiness of the manufacturing classes, that the Malt-tax should be repealed, as then they could brew their own beer.

Mr. Brotherton

said, he would vote for an alteration in the Corn-laws. It would tend to the prosperity of the landed and manufacturing interests. At present, the landowners enjoyed a monopoly which was injurious to the rest of the community; and, as long as that was continued, he should object to the repeal of the Malt-tax; though, if the agricultural interest were wise, it would give up its monopoly and encourage manufactures, as the surest method to increase the value of land.

Lord William Lennox

, said the hon. member for Salford had talked of the agricultural interests holding a monopoly. He knew of none that they possessed. It was admitted, on all sides, that they were greatly distressed; and yet a few hon. Members talked of their burthens being lighter than those of the manufacturing interests. Had hon. Members ever looked into the Poor-rates? If they had, they would see how the landed interest was taxed. He would prove, that the agricul- tural districts, paid more than double the amounts of Poor-rates paid by the manufacturing districts. By a calculation he was about to submit to the House, it would know how to value the statements

Principally Agricultural. Population. Total Expenditure, Poor Rates. About average cost per head.
1821. 1831. 1821. 1831. 1821. 1831.
£. £. £. s. d. £. s. d.
Norfolk 344,368 390,054 267,869 358,227 0 15 6 0 18 4
Suffolk 270,542 269,304 244,801 313,405 0 18 1 1 1 2
Essex 289,424 317,233 288,911 324,421 0 19 10 1 0 5
Sussex 233,019 272,328 276,499 328,709 1 3 8 1 4 2
Principally Manufacturing.
Lancaster 1,052,859 1,336,854 288,688 421,770 0 5 6 0 6 3
Staffordshire 345,895 410,485 151,177 179,036 0 8 8 0 8 8
Warwickshire 274,392 336,988 164,799 210,502 0 12 0 0 12 6
York, West Riding. 801,274 976,415 330,510 376,092 0 8 3 0 7 8
England 11,261,437 13,089,358 6,674,938 8,316,651 0 11 10 0 12 8
He hoped the House would see, from that statement, the fallacy of the assertion, that agriculture was not more burthened than manufactures. He would not, upon that occasion, enter into the question of the Corn-laws, further than to say, that he was opposed to any alteration in the present system.

Mr. Edward Ruthven

said, that, in Ireland, the interests of the occupiers of the soil, and of the owners of the soil, were two very different things. The owner of the soil, in that country, took from the occupier every fraction that the soil produced, except a bare sustenance. The occupier made nothing by his labour but the food he consumed; not so in England, where the occupier or farmer required more than food and sustenance for his family. He was quite satisfied, that so long as landlords kept up the present high rates of land, the people would be in poverty and distress.

Mr. Feargus O'Connor

represented a large agricultural county in Ireland, and therefore wished to show the distinction between these two classes in the two countries. In England, as soon as any portion of the fair profits of the occupier were taken away, he began to complain; but in Ireland the agriculturist never complained until all was gone. This was neither an agricultural, nor a manufacturing question. The two interests must stand or fall together. The noble Lord, when he brought forward his budget the other night, had played them a pretty trick. He took off 1,200,000l., and laid on 600,000l., and of those who declared that the farmer was not so badly off as the manufacturer. His Lordship then made the following statement:—

put it as a bone of contention to set the agricultural and manufacturing interests a fighting. Were he an English Member, and an Englishman, he would vote for a total repeal of the Corn-laws; but he was not prepared to do so as an Irish Member, representing a great agricultural county, because there was a great difference between the landlords of the two countries.

Sir Charles Burrell

could assure hon. Members, that the reduction of rents throughout England upon the Poor-lands had been above one-half. He thought it right to state this plainly and fairly. He was sure that it had been more than that upon his own land, and upon that of most of his neighbours. It was right that this should be stated, because misrepresentations had gone abroad. When the trading interests were distressed, they obtained relief in various ways from the Government; and he thought there should be no unkind feeling on their part towards the landed interest, who were their best customers.

Mr. Potter

was quite sure that the manufacturing and commercial interests were opposed to monopolies; and that in general they were the advocates of free trade. Honourable Gentlemen from the agricultural districts complained of the great pressure of the poor-rates; but he could not help thinking a good deal of it was occasioned by mismanagement. In Manchester the poor-rate, for the last seven years, had not averaged more than 3s. 6d. in the pound. Employment was, no doubt, more abundant in manufactur- ing districts; but a much better system was pursued in them than in the farming districts. In the latter, the industrious and independent labourer was put on a footing with the idle and dissipated one, which produced the worst consequences.

Mr. Finch

conceived it to be a great absurdity to say, that the interests of the manufacturer and the agriculturist were different. He was persuaded, in his own mind, that a repeal of the Corn-laws would be very injurious to the manufacturing interest. The exportation of English manufactures would not only be greatly diminished, but the price would be very materially affected. Something, in his opinion, ought to be done to relieve the distress of the agriculturists. They had suffered very severe losses, which had occasioned a destruction of capital that was almost incredible; and to suppose, in their present state, they could compete with the Northern countries of Europe, where their productions were untaxed, would be to suppose the greatest of all absurdities. This effect, however, would be produced by a repeal of the Corn-laws—it would throw immense tracts of land, not only in this country, but more particularly in Ireland, out of cultivation. Whether the House should feel disposed to repeal the Malt-duty or not, something must be done to relieve the agriculturists from the burthens by which they were now oppressed.

Mr. Charles A. Walker

admitted, that absenteeism was a great curse to Ireland, but, at the same time, he must say, that many of the absentee landlords of that country were as merciful to their tenants as the residents. He admitted that the absentee landlords did great injury by spending their property in another country, but, with respect to the aristocracy of Ireland, he must be allowed to say, that they were not tyrants over their peasantry. The tyrants were not the aristocracy or the gentlemen, but the middlemen, who took the land from the landlord. Last year there was a kind of set made against the landlords and landed interest of Ireland. They were now saddling the landlords with the county cess, with tithes, and poor-rates, and threatened them with a repeal of the Corn-laws. There must be a reduction of rent if the Corn-laws were repealed, and in that case the landlords of Ireland would receive nothing.

Petition to lie on the Table.

Mr. Hodges

presented a petition from Leeds, Kent, praying for a repeal of the Malt-tax. In his opinion, there could be no more substantial relief to the agriculturists than the repeal of the Malt-tax. With regard to the observation, that the rent ought to be reduced as a means of relief, it was a matter of notoriety, that, on all the middling land of England, the rent had already fallen, and, in a short time, he feared a similar fall would extend over the whole country.

Mr. Andrew Johnston

thought it would be a very proper measure to lay an additional duty upon spirits. He had reason to believe that a proposition would be made from Scotland for an increase of the duty upon spirits. The returns from the police would show to what a lamentable extent demoralization prevailed there in consequence of the consumption of ardent spirits. A proposition would be brought forward, for raising the duty on spirits in Scotland to that of England.

Mr. Strickland

said, he should hear a proposition for the increase of taxes with pain. All the country were looking for a reduction of taxation; and any argument, drawn from what he could not help calling spurious morality, was a very bad one. There was no greater fallacy than to say that, by placing a tax on the spirits and food of the people, their condition could be improved. They would not, by that, be improved, either in their habits or virtuous principles; but, increase their education, and the effect would be immediate on both. They would become soon sensible of their own bad habits, and the dreadful effects of ardent spirits on their health. Instruction was the quickest mode of bettering a people, because it made them susceptible of good feeling, and taught them to appreciate the advantages of virtuous habits. To increase taxation could never alleviate the people's distress. He most heartily concurred with the hon. Gentleman who wished for a repeal of the Malt-tax, for he knew that the agriculturists were in a state of great distress, and he should be most happy to hear that the state of the revenue allowed of the repeal of that lax. The Corn-laws had brought the trade of this country to an unnatural state, and if they were revised, that would afford the greatest relief to the people at large. With regard to the question of reducing the rentals, hon. Members must surely be aware, that since the peace, rents were reduced one-half.

Mr. Hardy

fully concurred in the observations made by the hon. Member (Mr. Johnston) in favour of increasing the tax on spirits. Some speculative evils might be imagined from the increase of taxation, perhaps, but they bore no comparison with the overwhelming evils that daily afflicted the country from the use of that "liquid fire" which the people were in the habit of drinking. He was an advocate for education certainly; but every improvement that could be made in the morality of the people should be effected, independently of improving their education. It was not to be supposed that there were not different modes of increasing the comfort and bettering the habit of a people as well as teaching them writing and arithmetic. Do away with the gin-shops, and it would have the most salutary effects on the minds of the people.

Petition laid on the Table.

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