§ On the Motion that the Order of the Day be read, "That the House should resolve itself into a Committee of Supply,"
The Marquess of Chandos
rose to call the attention of the House to a question of great importance. He would, first of all move, "That that part of his Majesty's Speech, which related to Agricultural Distress, be read." The clerk accordingly read the following passage:—I have to lament the continuance of distress amongst the proprietors and occupiers of land, though, in other respects, the state of the country, both as regards its internal tranquillity, and its commerce and manufactures, affords the most encouraging prospect of progressive improvement'. The noble Marquess continued: In calling upon the House to take the subject of agricultural distress into its consideration, he was sure that the question was not inferior in importance to any that had been for a long time, or could be, submitted to its consideration. While he deeply felt the general embarrassment that pervaded the whole agricultural interest, and was most anxious to impress on the House the policy and the justice of applying an effective remedy, he was at the same time sensible of his own inability to deal with the subject as its great importance required. But, however inadequate his capabilities were to the execution of the duty that he had taken upon himself, he felt a sincere conviction that the House would go along with him in the persuasion that the distress was deep and general, and called at once for the saving hand of Parliament. From the facts which he would state—and they possessed a melancholy reality—he 650 hoped he should convince the House, that the distress was silently but steadily advancing; and, though in some places its progress was more rapid, palpable, and decisive than in others, yet, for many years, its fatal existence and growth was evident in all. It was true the distress was more intensely felt in one place than in another; but then the dismal truth was notorious, that no place was free. He begged to remind the House, that, in 1821, a Committee was appointed to investigate the causes of the distress which then existed among the agriculturists, and suggest a remedy; but, though that Committee made a Report, no benefit resulted from it. From that year down to the last the distress had been acquiring additional growth, and threatening greater dangers. There was no diminution of the evil, and no remedy applied. In the last year, another attempt was made to arrest the evil, by the appointment of another Committee. He would, in alluding to that Committee, take leave to state, that the right hon. Baronet opposite, who presided on that Committee, showed every wish to do his duty to the House and the country zealously and well. No one could be more anxious to promote every investigation. He was not a member of the Committee in the year 1821; but he had attentively read its Report, and he believed he might say, he was acquainted with the character and the extent of the inquiry then instituted. The Committee of 1821 was fully satisfied as to the great distress of the agriculturists in general, and it expressed a hope—indeed he would quote the language which it had used:—'That the great body of the occupiers of the soil, either from the savings of more prosperous times, or from the credit which punctuality commands in this country, possess resources which will enable them to surmount the difficulties under which they now labour'. The Committee of 1833 however said, 'Your Committee, with deep regret, are bound rather to express a fear that the difficulties alone remain unchanged, but that the savings are either gone or greatly diminished, the credit failing, and the resources being generally exhausted; and this opinion is formed, not on the evidence of rent-payers, but of many most respectable witnesses, as well owners of land, as surveyors 651 and land-agents." Year after year had passed without alleviation; the accumulated capital had been reduced; and the credit had been exercised almost to its full extent. Those were positions which he had again and again taken the liberty of urging on the House, and which had been fully made out upon inquiry. Such being the facts as to the situation of the agriculturists, he felt it to be his duty to take the earliest opportunity of bringing the subject under the formal consideration of that House. He did not at all attempt to deny that his feelings were strongly interested in the welfare of the farmer, and of the agriculturists in general. He confessed that he was almost entirely dependent upon the land for whatever of property he possessed, and therefore, from that reason, and he would add from others, he felt extremely anxious to watch over and to promote, in as far as he might have the opportunity, the protection and the welfare of that interest. He felt also that, having admitted his entire dependence upon the land, it might be said, that his motives were selfish, and were derived from personal interests, rather than from an enlarged view of the interests of the country. But, whatever motives might be attributed to him individually, it could not, it was impossible that it should, be denied by any one, that the occupiers and the cultivators of the soil had, by their exemplary conduct, loyalty, obedience to the laws, and immense importance to the general community of the country, a great and deserved claim upon the best consideration of the Legislature. The Committee of 1821 admitted, and indeed proved, the great state of depression in which the agricultural interest then stood; but it expressed a hope that that distress was temporary, and also that the stored wealth and credit of the agriculturist would be made beneficially useful by his persevering industry and economy; but the Committee of last year had repeated the statement as to the depression of the agriculturist, and had clearly shown, that the pressure upon the agriculturist was not ephemeral, but was, and would prove, permanent, unless some active and substantial measures for relief were adopted. The distresses of the farmer, it was well known to all, arose from a variety of causes; they were of a mixed character, being partly local and partly general. Unquestionably instances might 652 be found of flourishing farmers—of occupiers of land who not only did not complain, but were well satisfied with their position. He apprehended, however, indeed he was confident, that such cases were very rare. Again, farmers who had capital to fall back upon, might be able to continue in spite of the existing difficulties; and there might be yet some unexhausted credit capable of being brought into operation; but he asserted positively and unequivocally, that the great body of the occupiers of the soil, that the great body of the landed interest, was in a state of deep and dangerous distress. The character of the prevailing seasons would of course affect particular descriptions of land; but it was not by exceptions that the state of this great interest was to be decided. It was imagined by some that though the farmer suffered the landlord had not suffered. Nothing could be more erroneous. He spoke of facts within his own knowledge. In the part of the country in which he lived, in the county of Buckingham, low lands, which used to let at from 35s. an acre to 37s. an acre, were now let at from 14s. an acre to 7s. an acre. Could it then be said that the landlord had not suffered? Assuredly not. But then that reduction in the means of the landlord fell with increased severity on the tenant and the labourer. The landlord being reduced, he was compelled to press, more severely on the tenant, and the tenant in self-defence was compelled to curtail the labourer. He, therefore, contended, indeed it was evident, that the land-owner, the occupier, and the labourer, were closely and intimately connected; that he who would inculcate a different feeling was the enemy of each class; and that the one class could not be benefited by a removal of burthens without the others sharing in the amelioration. He knew that it had been again and again said, that the landowners and the farmers were desirous of a monopoly. In that House he felt confident that it must be unnecessary for him to give any contradiction to such a charge; but still he never could consent to forego an opportunity of publicly, and honestly, and conscientiously declaring that, as one connected with and dependent upon the land, he desired no monopoly. All that he asked on the part of the agriculturist was, the observance of the maxim, live and let live. When he heard it asserted, 653 that there was a monopoly in corn he denied entirely the truth of that assertion. The agriculturist in this country was protected, but he had no monopoly; and that protection was for the good of all. A free trade had been talked of; but a free trade was impracticable, consistent with the existence of society. It was said, let the ports be open for foreign corn without restriction. Why, let the circumstances be considered, and surely there would be an end to such a demand. It was utterly impossible that the farmer in this country could compete with the foreign corn grower, who paid his labourers but 1s. a week each, while the present onerous local and general burthens pressed with such fearful weight upon him. But, to show the falseness of the assertion relative to monopoly, it was only necessary to refer to the actual position of the farmer with reference to the other classes; and it I would be found that the agriculturist only received protection as other classes received; protection, and that there was no monopoly. Nor was it possible to advert to the language in his Majesty's Speech without feeling that the agriculturist, being admitted to be in a state of deep distress, was entitled to consideration and relief, especially when it was remembered that he had borne his privations with unwavering loyalty, patience, and without clamour. The farmers had not resisted the King's officers in their legal demands for taxes, but they had ever been devoted to the preservation of good order, and had contributed to their uttermost to the exigencies of the State. He had, therefore, naturally expected that the passage in his Majesty's Speech to which he had alluded, would have been followed up by some substantial measure for the relief of the landed interest. Unless such were to be the case, he was at a loss to imagine why the passage was inserted. The expectation, however, had not hitherto been fulfilled. It was true that the noble Lord, when he had opened his budget, had stated that the Government had not been unmindful of the distresses of the agriculturists, and that they intended to afford relief through certain measures operating on the Poor-laws and the tithes. Now, so far as the present distress could be relieved by measures affecting those subjects, doubtless the noble Lord meant to keep his word; but what he complained of was, that the relief would be too 654 tardy. What the agriculturist wanted, was something more immediately operative. The tithes and Poor-laws were undoubtedly great burthens upon the landed interest; but with respect to the former, he confessed he did not see how any very great relief was to be afforded, the rights of property being maintained, unless the community at large was to contribute to the sum necessary for the commutation of tithes. Again, with respect to the Poor-laws, he could not allow that any measure could be proposed with respect to them that would at once, or even at an early period, afford to the agriculturist that relief to which his peculiar position entitled him. Relief, to be efficient and satisfactory, must be speedy. Indeed, unless something were done, the consequence must be that those very Poor-laws which the noble Lord proposed to amend would swallow up the interest their alteration was to relieve. Already there were whole parishes the rent of which was absorbed by the Poor-laws. He knew of one instance in Buckinghamshire in which a whole parish was in the hands of a Committee under the Poor-laws, and certainly in that parish the whole of the labourers had been furnished with employment. But, good God! was such a state of things to be allowed to gain ground? Such proceedings could not be permitted. They must be put a stop to, or the whole frame of society would go to pieces. He was confident, that if the progress in that direction were permitted to gain ground, it would soon become impossible, let who might be Minister, to save the country from confusion and from destruction. But he reverted to the charge that the agriculturists possessed a monopoly. It had been even asserted, by an hon. Member, a few nights ago, that the landed interest had a monopoly in, among a variety of other things, butter, eggs, and bacon. He was really astonished when he heard the hon. member for Middlesex make such an assertion. It was altogether at variance with the fact. If the hon. Member were a dairy farmer, for instance, he would very soon find that he had no monopoly in butter. He would soon find that the Dutchman would range his butter in the same market in opposition: that in fact the same quality of butter which had a few years ago sold for 18d. and 19d. per pound, was now sold at from 7d. to 10d. per pound. Again, what was the 655 case with respect to meat? Upon that subject, doubtless, the noble Lord (Lord Althorp) was much better informed than he could pretend to be, but he believed the price had fallen to 4d. per lb. or 5d. In Northamptonshire the case might be different; but he could assure the noble Lord and the House that he had taken his figures from the accounts of a large farmer, and he had no doubt whatever of their accuracy. The wheat was 6s. 6d. per bushel; barley, 3s. 4d. per bushel; and beans 4s. per bushel. Now, he would ask the House if those prices could be considered the result of a monopoly? Indeed, he would ask the House if they were higher than the agriculturist had a just right to ask and to receive? But while the price of his produce had fallen, the burthens of the farmer had increased. Labour had risen from 6s. a-week, to 9s. and 10s., and, under these circumstances, he would contend that, taking the country in general, it was almost impracticable for the agriculturist to make the two ends meet, much less to acquire any adequate and fitting profit. He looked back with feelings of the deepest concern to the fires of 1829 and 1830, and most sincerely did he hope that such scenes might never again be repeated. He had no doubt that they originated in a design to attempt the reduction of rents and the abolition of tithes, but they had been found to produce only evil. And when hon. Members spoke lightly of making extensive experiments with respect to the agriculturists, he would remind them of the sentiments of Mr. Burke, who declared that the most dangerous of experiments were those that were directed against the agriculturists, for that they were exposed by nature to hazard enough already, and by law to as much burthen as they could well bear. He went along entirely with those sentiments, and he would say that nothing could be more prejudicial to justice or cruel to the agriculturist than the continued agitation for the repeal of the Corn-laws. He denied that those laws gave to the agriculturist any undue protection; and with a view of clearly justifying his position, he would state to the House some facts with respect to the charges upon farms and the nature of the produce which he believed to be fair samples as to the general state of the farming interest. In one case, of a grass farm, the value of the produce was 750l.; and in that in- 656 stance the burthens, including poor rates, tithe, parochial, and county rates, and King's-taxes, amounted to 769l. 12s. The House would also remember that in addition to that sum there was a heavy Malt-duty, and also that any farmer was subjected to a duty for any horse that, though generally used for agricultural purposes, had occasionally a saddle put on its back. Further, the moment that an agricultural labourer found himself in a farmer's house or stable to saddle his horse, that moment the tax-collector entered him as a domestic servant, and the farmer had a duty to pay for him. So that, in addition to the heavy burthens he had first alluded to, the farmer had a high Malt-duty, Window-tax, and other taxes of a general character to bear. Now to show the extreme pressure upon the farmer, he would advert to a few instances with respect to the poor-rates at different periods. The first period he would take should embrace the six years from 1787 to 1792, and the second, should embrace the six years from 1828 to 1833. The result was frightful. In one case, in the six years ending 1792, the poor-rates amounted to 1,077l., and the six years ending 1833 to 3,670l.; in another instance the first period was 2,500l., and the second 7,139l.; in a third instance, the first period was 2,851l., and the second 9,777l. Such cases were not exaggerations. He knew the parishes in which they occurred, and he believed that they were fair samples as to the whole of the agricultural parishes. Such were the facts, and the parishes were so circumstanced, and the difficulties were from year to year so increasing, that, unless something was done to abate their operation, the fee simple of the land must soon be in the hands of the paupers. Therefore, when the noble Lord stated that relief was to be afforded, and that that relief was to be an alteration of tithes and of the Poor-laws, his reply was, that the necessity of the case required immediate succour; and, that before relief could be obtained by those means, the farmers would be ruined. The plan of the noble Lord might be well enough in as far as it went, but it did not go far enough, and must be too remote in its operation. In the cases he had alluded to, he had confined himself to parishes in the county in which he lived; but he held in his hand a communication from a highly respect- 657 able farmer in Somersetshire. He was not personally acquainted with his informant, but his high respectability was perfectly well known to many hon. Members of that House, and there could be no doubt as to the accuracy of his statements. The first referred to a farm of the best land, 40s. an acre, situated in the vale of Taunton. The produce of that farm fetched 584l., and the outgoings upon it were 587l.; in the second case the farm was one of second-rate land, the rent of which was 28s. an acre, and the produce sold for 766l., and the outgoings were 883l. Such he really believed to be the state of the agricultural interest in general, as to outlay and receipt, and he believed that except where the farmer had previous accumulations to fall back upon, he was year after year increasing his incumbrances, till at last, and at no distant period, he must be destroyed. What he wished then was, that something should at once be done; that the Ministers should at once adopt some measure that would give substantial and immediate relief to the farmer. The noble Lord, when he opened his Budget, had said, that he would relieve the householders of the House-tax. He did not wish at all to find fault with that proposition. Indeed, he sincerely congratulated the towns upon the relief which would be afforded them; but he could not help saying, that he should have been much better satisfied if the noble Lord had not made the concession to clamour. The noble Lord said, the House-tax was unpopular, and there was no doubt that such was the fact; but the Malt-tax was not differently situated. When the House repealed the Malt-tax [Lord Althorp said, across the Table, that the Malt tax was not repealed] Oh! yes, it had been repealed, and the vote rescinded four days after. The noble Lord did not appear to think, that unpopularity, unless enforced by something more impressive, was enough to justify the repeal of a tax. The noble Lord had stated, notwithstanding the distressed state of the agriculturists, that the revenue was so prosperous that he should be able to reduce taxation to the amount of 1,200,000l. And, having done so, the noble Lord at once locked up a sum of 800,000l. for the West-India interest; but which, as he understood the noble Lord, that interest would not be able to touch for months after the period at which the noble Lord, laid the money by. 658 Then, why not make use of that 800,000l., and give relief to the farmer to that extent? If relief could not be afforded to the extent of the repeal of the Malt-tax, still a great boon might be conferred. He should say, the Window-tax, and several small taxes, might be repealed, if the noble Lord had seen fit to have imposed an additional duty upon gin; and if an increased duty had been laid upon French wines, then the noble Lord might, without the slightest inconvenience, have done that which the Speech of his Majesty would necessarily appear to call for. He did not at all wish to alter the plan of reduction laid down by the noble Lord in as far as it went; but he must say, after hearing the language of the King's Speech, and to find the only reduction proposed,—to the amount of 1,200,000l.,—devoted to the relief, not of the patient, suffering, and forbearing agriculturists, but of those who had been clamorous, though they were not distressed, and had set the laws at defiance, did appear to him extraordinary. The farmers throughout England had laid the case of their hard sufferings before that House; they had done so by petition; they then did so through him; and he implored that House not to turn a deaf ear to their prayer, and thereby give a denial to loyalty and endurance with which clamour and resistance had not been visited. The agriculturist still adhered to the Government of the country, and respected that House, and employed neither violence nor threat to obtain justice. He had thus stated, too feebly, he felt, the grounds upon which he had called the attention of the House to the subject, and upon which he should found his Motion. He felt that, in taking the course he had done, he was honestly discharging his duty by his constituents, and by the country; and he protested, that he was in no way animated by a desire of opposing the Government. All, in fact, that he was desirous of doing, was to propose to the House such a proposition as must, he thought, be deemed only a natural consequence of the language in the King's Speech. In that Speech the agriculturists were the only class spoken of as being in a state of distress; and, therefore, it appeared to him only reasonable, there being a surplus revenue, that they should be relieved by the reduction of taxation. He implored the House, then, not to refuse the just prayer of its petitioners; 659 but, by cordially conceding to their wishes, to give to them that encouragement which would, of a certainty, confirm them, if possible, more fixedly than ever in a love of loyalty, and an unshrinking obedience to the laws. Nor could he resume his seat without entreating the House to bear in mind what might be the consequence if the boon now solicited should be denied. If deferred till the next year it might come too late. The House might take his word for it, that the distress complained of must be conquered by its interference, or it would destroy those upon whom it now preyed, and who would soon be unable longer to right against it. It was not of a passing, ephemeral nature, but, if unchecked, would go on from bad to worse, till its effect was utter ruin. He had commenced by lamenting his inability to do justice to the cause he had undertaken, and he now felt severely that his lamentation had been too well founded. But he had honestly, and to the best of his poor ability, stated the just pretensions of those among whom, and through whom, he lived; and he left the decision of the case in the hands of the House, fully trusting that every country Gentleman would discharge his duty faithfully, and that the cause would not suffer through the insufficiency of its advocate. He moved, as an Amendment to the Motion for reading the Order of the Day, that the following Resolution be substituted:—" That, in any reduction of the burthens of the country, which it may be practicable to effect by a remission of taxes, due regard should be had to the necessity of relieving, at the present period, the distressed condition of the agricultural interest, adverted to in his Majesty's Speech," instead thereof.
§ Sir Edward Knatchbull
seconded the Motion of his noble friend; and, in doing so, said he felt that he should ill discharge his duty to the country and to himself if he hesitated one moment in doing so; agreeing, as he did, most cordially in the sentiments which had been expressed by his noble friend. That noble Lord had entered at large into the discussion, and had dwelt upon topics which it was not his intention to discuss. He was satisfied to confine himself to a few remarks on the general proposition contained in the Resolution. The noble Lord called upon the House, by that Resolution, to state that, in any reduction of the burthens of the 660 people, by a reduction of taxation, due regard should be paid to the necessity of relieving, at the present period, the distressed condition of the agricultural interest. The whole purport of this Resolution was simply confirmatory of what was contained in his Majesty's Speech from the Throne, and of that of the noble Lord opposite, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who had manifested his wish to give the relief required, when he spoke of the burthen of the poor-rates upon the agricultural interest. That being the case, he could not suppose, that the noble Lord would hesitate in giving the assurance which his noble friend had required. The noble Lord, however, was aware, and the House was equally well aware, that other opportunities would arise, when this question must be taken into consideration more at large. It was, therefore, at the present moment, not necessary that he should enter into any discussion; but he thought (fully acquiescing, as he did, in the opinion of his noble friend), that the House was bound to call upon his Majesty's Government to give an assurance, that the agricultural interest alone should not be excluded from any benefit arising from a reduction of taxation. His noble friend had alluded, in terms which every one in the House must admire, to the case of those persons whose cause he had so ably advocated. He begged to repeat, most positively, that there was not to be found in the country a better disposed class of persons than those of whom his noble friend had spoken. He did not mean, however, to contend, that, on this ground alone, they deserved assistance and relief; he would say, that the manufacturing, or any other class, were equally entitled to the consideration of that House; nor would he attempt to set up one class against another, for their interests were all bound up together. Nothing which might be done in that House would have the effect of inducing him to retrace his steps; and he would do his duty, as he had promised to do, by seconding the Motion of the noble Lord.
§ Lord Althorp
said, that he agreed in what had fallen from the noble Lord, and the hon. Baronet, in relation to the distress which pervaded the agricultural classes, for he was perfectly well aware that they were in a state of great distress. Certainly there was no part of the speech of the noble Lord in which he more cordially concurred 661 than in the wish which he had expressed, that every exertion should be made to remedy the evils which unhappily existed. But, on the other hand, he certainly differed from the noble Lord on many of the points which had been urged by him. There was one statement of the noble Lord in which the House must, at once, see that he should agree with the noble Lord, that, namely, in which the noble Lord adverted to the effect of the poor-rates. He concurred with the noble Lord, that the proportion they bore towards any other of the burthens of the State was very great. He was bound to say, and he was satisfied that, whatever might be done with other taxes, or with the agricultural interests, in other respects, the endeavour must be made to give relief in respect of the poor-rates, the growth of which, if not checked, would swallow up all the surplus property of the country, and they must remove other evils. He was as much interested as the noble Lord, or as any man could be, in the prosperity of the owners and occupiers of land; and when he spoke of those who advocated the landed interest, he referred to them only as taking a prominent part in the questions relating to land, as contradistinguished from those who took an equally prominent part in questions relating to manufactures and commerce. He differed widely from those who said, that relief to the other interests in the country would not bear advantageously on agriculture. He was of opinion, that the tax, the repeal of which would give the greatest relief to the agricultural interest, was that which most interfered with the general interest and welfare of the country. It was upon this that the country must depend, being a source of greater wealth than in any other country; and the state of the agricultural interest was better than in any other country. Under these circumstances, he could not concur in the doctrine laid down by the noble Lord,—that because, in the plan suggested, the repeal of the Malt-tax was not given, that, therefore, there was no relief given to the landed interest. If it could be proved, that the existence of the Malt-tax diminished the wealth of the country more than any other, then he would say it pressed upon the landed interest. There was one point to which he begged to call the attention of the House. He was not denying any facts which went to prove that there was distress amongst 662 the occupiers of the soil; and he was about to refer to the subject only as illustrative of what the effect of the general prosperity of the country on the landed interest must be, and showing that the wisest course to pursue was that which should be most likely to promote the general prosperity. He alluded to the great alteration which had occurred in the price of wool; and he was sure, that Gentlemen connected with the country were aware that the price of this article, five or six years ago, was 9d. per lb., whereas it was now raised to 2s. Thus there was a difference, or increase of price, of 15d. per lb. Now, if Gentlemen would consider what a great addition this must have made to the receipts of the occupiers of the soil, they would see that the repeal of the whole of the Malt-duty—if it all went into the pockets of the farmers, which it certainly would not do—would not be equal to the relief which they had derived from the increase in that article alone. He was not prepared to go into details on that point, but he was sure he was not wrong in what he had stated. But why had this great increase taken place? Was it not owing to the general prosperity of the other interests, or, at least, to a great improvement in their circumstances? He was aware that this rise in the price of wool was owing, in part, to the deficiency in the supply. He was ready to admit, that the deficiency of supply had operated, to a certain extent, in raising the price; but it could not be denied, that the main cause was the increasing demand from the improved circumstances of other interests. They thus became more extensive customers to the agriculturists than before; and it must follow, that a measure of relief which would promote the interests of those who purchased from that class, would do them good as well as those to whom the relief was more immediately given, and more good than they could derive from any small amount of direct remission. The noble Lord had expressed his concurrence in the remission of the House-duty, but expressed his regret that it should have been conceded in consequence of the resistance made to it. [The Marquess of Chandos had used the word "unpopularity."] It was true that he had stated that the unpopularity of the tax was one ground of his objection to it; but it should be recollected, that he had, in a great measure, pledged himself to the re- 663 peal of the tax, before any resistance had been made to it; and that that contemptible resistance, if he did not use too strong a word, had been put down, and the law vindicated, before he had brought the question forward in the House. The noble Lord thought, that, because he had given up the House-duty, he had also the means of relieving the agriculturists to somewhat near the same extent. As to giving them relief from the application of any portion of the sum set aside for the payment of the West-India loan before such payment became due, it was out of the question; for it had been agreed, that the interest should be payable from the moment the parties should entitle themselves to receive it, which would probably be about the month of August. It had been very truly said, that, in the present year, the Government would not have to pay more than half a-year's interest on the loan for the compensation of the West-India proprietors; but, at the same time, it was equally true, that it would be, in the highest degree, improvident to apply the funds allocated for that purpose to any other; such a practice would be most dangerous to public credit; and it could not but be obvious that, in providing the ways and means, it was impossible for him to take such a consideration into account. With respect to what had been said on the subject of an increased duty upon spirits, he was perfectly ready to admit, that the duty should only be limited by the amount that it was practicable to collect. He should be willing to go to the highest amount in duty that had not the effect of diminishing the revenue; but these observations, or admissions, contributed nothing to the support of the noble Lord opposite in the position which he took up. For the reasons, then, which he had stated, he should object to the Amendment then before the House: he could not agree, that the diminution of this, or that, particular tax would obviate the agricultural distress which at present existed. He was aware, that the small taxes payable off land were vexatious, but they did not take much from the farmer; and far greater benefit, in his opinion, would accrue from placing the poor-rates on an improved footing, than from anything that could be done in the way of relieving the landed interest from the pressure of direct taxes. Even the Malt-tax, of which so much had been said, would not afford the relief which was 664 imagined; though some parts of the country might gain, others would not. He admitted, that there was considerable distress; but he begged it to be borne in mind, that the owners of the barley-growing lands were not those at present in the greatest distress; the heavy lands were, at present, the least profitable. After much reflection, he was quite convinced, that there were other taxes than those mentioned which would afford relief to the agricultural interest; for example,—the removal of any taxes which interfered with the general industry of the country. Upon all these grounds, he must refuse his assent to the Amendment.
§ Mr. Fryer
called upon the House to consider the state of the manufacturers. Let them look at the miners who worked undergound, at the blacksmiths and other trades, whose wasted figures and tattered habiliments gave but too true a picture of the distress and privation under which they were suffering. He had a right, then, to call upon the noble Lord (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) to consider the state of those poor sufferers. He had a right, too, to expect the support and co-operation of the noble Marquess in any measure which might be proposed for their relief. He asked it not of the noble Marquess as a boon or favour; he called for it as an act of justice to these wretched sufferers. Let the House remove the monopoly upon the people's food. This was not only the means by which relief could be extended to the poor manufacturer, but it was also the only real course by which the farmer could be rendered independent and trade made to flourish. The fact was, that the agricultural and manufacturing interests were joined, and must stand or fall together.
said, that, with respect to what had been said relative to the price of wool, and the alterations which had taken place in that trade, it was not his intention to enter into that question. Indeed he thought they were altogether irregular in having deviated from the Motion which the noble Marquess had brought under the consideration of the House. Surely they were not, upon the discussion of that Motion, to turn aside and follow the hon. member for Wolverhampton in his dissertation respecting the Corn-laws! That was a question which was to come before the House in a separate form. The real fact for the consideration 665 of the House was simply this:—The House had last year appointed a Committee to inquire into the distresses of the agricultural, manufacturing, and commercial interests, and the Report of that Committee was, that the greatest distress prevailed amongst the agriculturists, while manufactures and commerce were in a state of general prosperity. The same thing was repeated to Parliament in his Majesty's Speech this year, and yet the Chancellor of the Exchequer came down with a sort of anticipatory budget, and, in his financial statement, appeared to have come to the strangest of all possible conclusions. The noble Lord admitted, that he was about to extend a portion of relief by a reduction of taxation to those who were in prosperity, while he refused to extend any to those who were admitted to be in distress. It was true, that if relief from taxation could be extended to all, all had a right to it; but when there was only an apportionment of reduction, then surely it should be made where distress was universally admitted to exist. The noble Lord (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) had maintained, that when they relieved the manufacturers, they relieved the landed interest, by giving rise to an increased consumption; but he begged the noble Lord's pardon for stating, that the converse of the principle held equally good, for if they relieved the farmer they would enable him to increase his consumption of the manufactures of the country, and thus the manufacturer would enjoy increased prosperity. He must, upon the whole, say, that he conceived hard measure had been dealt out towards the landed interest. To be sure the noble Lord had told them to wait, and he would introduce a measure which would afford them extensive relief. One source of relief was a commutation of tithes. But this, however beneficial, inasmuch as it might remove several causes of annoyance and discontent, could not be productive of any extensive relief to the agriculturists. Again, the noble Lord had told them, that great relief was to be extended to the landed interest from an alteration in the Poor-laws; but of the nature of this latter measure, the House and the country were left in total ignorance. It might be that such would be the fact, but it would be of the greatest importance to the agriculturist, to be made acquainted with the nature of the measure, or at least 666 to receive some information upon it; in such an event the agriculturist might be induced to remain quiet while this partial reduction of taxation was going on. If it was intended to place a part of the poor-rate upon some other property it might afford great relief to the agriculturist, but in the absence of all information, how were they to decide that point? There was one great difference between the agriculturist and the manufacturer, which was this. The manufacturer took up labour. He used it while he wanted it, and threw it down when he no longer needed it, without caring for or looking any further about it. But not so the farmer; when he employed labourers he was saddled with them in one shape or another for all his life afterwards, no matter whether he wanted them or not. He for one must protest against the course pursued by the noble Lord (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) until he knew what was the nature of this great measure of relief which he held out to the country. It might be a measure which would come into operation some eight or ten years hence, and perhaps not for fifteen or twenty years to come, in which case it would be altogether inoperative in affording the relief which was at present so imperiously called for. He would repeat, that this was no answer to the question, why the agricultural interest, which was admitted to be the most distressed, should not receive the benefit of even a partial remission of taxation. The noble Lord, in his budget, had told them he proposed to repeal a tax which his own good sense told him was not the best tax to be repealed, but that he proposed it because the House-tax was an unpopular tax; perhaps it was so. They all knew that meetings had been held in various quarters on the subject—that hundreds of thousands of persons had attended those meetings, and that numerous assemblages of persons had marched down to the Home Office, or to the Office of the noble Lord (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) in pairs, to petition for its repeal, so that in acceding to this petition, the noble Lord was only getting rid of the importunities with which he was assailed. The noble Lord (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) had told them that there were two agriculturists on one side, and two manufacturers on the other, and that these were equal quantities. But this was not so. There was no doubt 667 that in cases of public petition and clamour like that in question, the cities and great towns would beat down the voice of the agriculturists, and if any proof of the fact were wanting, they had it before them in the proposal of the noble Lord with respect to repealing the House-tax. The hon. member for Wolverhampton, who always addressed the House with great earnestness on behalf of his constituents, said, that they were bound to remove the corn monopoly, as he called it, in order to give the people cheap bread. Now, it was the fact, that bread was cheaper at the present moment than it had been at any period within the last 150 years, for the century before 1793, the average price of wheat was 50s. per quarter, while, at present, it was only 48s. 9d., according to the latest average taken. It was true that the price of wool had latterly risen, and so had the price of meat; but, unfortunately, that rise did not go into the pocket of the farmer. On the contrary, the flock farmer found that the rise in the price of both articles did not compensate him for the losses he had sustained during the last three years by the rot amongst his sheep. With respect to what had been said about the repeal of the duty on malt, he thought it might be much more advantageously proposed than that of the duty on houses, because if the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer were to repeal a portion of that duty, he would lose only one-half. If, for Instance, he was to take 5s. off malt, he would lose no more than half-a-crown, as the increased consumption would meet the remainder. He would further say, that the noble Lord (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) would, on a further consideration of the subject, find that the half of the Malt-tax might be taken off with advantage to the community generally, and more particularly the farmer, while the manufacturers of Wolverhampton and other districts would also derive their share of the benefit. Upon the whole, it must be evident to the House, that the agriculture of the country had been hardly dealt with. There was another subject upon which he wished to say a few words. Last year a Committee had been appointed to inquire into the demoralizing effect of beer shops; scarcely a Grand Jury in the country but had made representations against them; the increase of crime was a consequence of these establishments. There was hot a clergyman, a Magistrate, nay, 668 even a respectable farmer, or farmer's labourer, who had not cried out against them; and yet the noble Lord opposite, after taking the question out of the hands of another noble Lord last year, and after complaining that he was not supported more, now came forward and stated that he could not do anything further on the subject. All persons, no matter what their religious or political opinions were, agreed upon one point—namely, that these beer-shops must be put down in some way or other, if they wished the morals and purity of the country to be restored.
§ Mr. Wilbraham
said, that he entirely subscribed to the correctness of the statement made by the noble Marquess respecting the distress existing among the agricultural classes, but he could not agree with him as to the remedy for that distress, From what did it arise? Chiefly from the pressure of poor-rates and tithes; for, in his opinion, the Government taxes had so little connexion, with it, that they ought not to be included in the calculation. He remembered, that the Duke of Wellington, when in office, laid on the Table of the House of Peers a document very ingeniously, but, at the same time, very fairly drawn up, demonstrating that the distress under which the agricultural interest was suffering was in no way attributable to the pressure of the Government taxes. If there was any truth in the noble Duke's statement at that time, it must carry with it greater force at the present moment, when the agricultural classes had been relieved from many of the imposts which then pressed on them. He should object to the repeal of the Malt-tax, on the ground that it would give partial and not general relief to the country.
§ Mr. Cobbett
wholly differed from the noble Lord in the principles he had laid down on this subject; and he would explain that to him directly; he would, however, in the first place, address himself to what the hon. Member had asserted, that agricultural distress was in no way attributable to Parliamentary taxation, but wholly to tithes and poor-rates. Indeed! he would just ask the hon. Member at what time it was that tithes were first instituted? Was it five years ago, or ten years ago, or was it not rather earlier? The hon. Member must remember the good times for agriculturists; he must remember the cattle shows at Holkham, and the other specimens of the arrogance of the agricul- 669 tural aristocracy. These were good times for the agriculturalists, yet tithes existed even then. And this simple fact would suffice to show, that agricultural prosperity or adversity had nothing to do with tithes. This would do as an answer for the hon. Member: the error of the noble Lord was of much greater consequence, because he gave it as his reason why he would not give the agricultural interest the relief they wanted—the reduction of their taxes. The noble Lord was right enough in saying, that all taxes fell indirectly or directly upon all classes; if they instituted a Land-tax it would fall upon the labourers; but he would say, that if there were any taxes which were more particularly injurious to one class than another, they were those which had deterred the farmer from keeping labourers as servants, and providing them with beer. The taxes on agricultural servants and the Malt-tax had produced all those dissolute manners which had never been known among agricultural labourers before. The noble Lord said something about a proposed alteration in the poor-rates; he must, of course, mean to lessen the amount of that relief. Before the noble Lord talked of poor-rates being the burthen upon landholders, he should have put the House on an inquiry as to how those rates had been caused. Had they been inflicted on the people by an act of Providence? No. Had the poor themselves instituted them? No. Let the noble Lord look over the Treasury Records; and he would there find that the amount of poor-rates had gone on in exact coincidence with the progressive increase of taxation; and unless the noble Lord in-tendedto take off the taxes—which he, by the bye, strongly advised him to do—it was entirely out of his power to alleviate the case of the farmer by anything he could do with regard to poor-rates. There had been another cause of constant misery and distress among the farmers, which he also found to be studiously overlooked. It was not the poor-rates, he repeated, that had ruined the farmers. He remembered the time when wheat fetched 40l. or 50l. a load, yet the poor-rates were higher then than now. There had never been a year of greater agricultural prosperity than the year 1812, yet the poor-rates were higher then than now [Cries of "No, no '"] He said yes, yes; and he should like to hear any one disprove his assertion. Pshaw, continued Mr. Cobbett [a laugh]; no such 670 thing. He was stating facts, which could be proved from documents. He repeated, that in the year 1812, the agriculturists were in a state of the highest prosperity, yet poor-rates, as he could prove by the Parliamentary Returns, were higher then than now. The payment in gold brought down the price of wheat, and in this the great cause of the distress was to be found. The noble Lord said, the poor-rates had been the cause of the ruin of the country. These poor-rates had now been 250 years in operation, and yet it was only lately that they were discovered to have produced this ruin. Much had been said about checking the poor-rates, but how—how were they to be checked? Was it by a law to prevent the relief being extended? Was it by giving the poor less wages or allowance than now? How much less? He would appeal to the member for South Wiltshire to know in what degree the allowance could be lessened. That hon. Member knew that, in his neighbourhood a gallon loaf and threepence per week was the allowance; and how could this be lessened? The gallon loaf was about a pound of bread per day. Could they reduce this allowance? The allowance made by the Magistrates of Hampshire to the poor labourers was 3s. 6d. per week all the year round; and if they objected to this, there was no allowance for them. In Dorsetshire they were allowed a penny a week more. Where was the room for reduction in this allowance? Could the noble Lord reduce it lower? If such a measure were attempted, the consequences which he (Mr. Cobbett) predicted the other night would ensue, and they ought to ensue. How much superior was the condition of the soldier, who did no work, who only carried a bayonet, and yet received his 1s. 6d. per day, as well as fuel and lodging, to that of these poor labourers, who had only their gallon loaf and threepence per week! To meet the distress there should be a general reduction of taxation. No extensive relief could follow from a reduction of two millions in the navy and two millions in the army. There could be no effective mode of relieving the distress, unless by some such general reduction as that which followed the last peace, and this could not be done except by a removal of that cause which compelled the Government to keep up the standing army. It would be unreasonable in Members to expect that Government could reduce a 671 single tax, unless they stood by them in an effort to remove the debt.
Mr. Wolryche Whitmore
believed, that agricultural distress was very great; but he did not think that the measure proposed by the noble Mover was calculated to afford relief, or to effect the objects which he had in view. He agreed with his noble friend (Lord Althorp), and was convinced that his plan would do more to improve the agricultural interests, because it would take off the burthens that immediately and locally affected them. He had heard with great satisfaction that the noble Lord contemplated a measure of relief with respect to the Poor-laws. No measure that could come under the consideration of that House was entitled to more attention. So deeply did he feel it, that he had no hesitation in saying, that, if some measure of the sort were not speedily introduced, nothing like prosperity could return amongst the agriculturists. With reference to the particular question before the House, he believed that great benefits would arise to the agriculturist by the commutation of tithes. The hon. member for Essex had said that, if, under the commutation, the same sum were taken from the agriculturists that was taken now, they could not, by any possibility, find any relief. This he denied. He totally differed from the hon. member for North Essex (Mr. Baring). The settlement of the question of tithes alone would encourage the application of capital to the cultivation of land. The tithes, in this respect especially, was one of the greatest evils under which the landed interests laboured. He, for one, sincerely trusted that Ministers would redeem the pledge they had given to the House, and that they would introduce some measure with respect to the Poor-laws.
§ Mr. Benett
was of opinion, that the repeal of a part of the Malt-tax would, for every interest in the community, have been more desirable than the repeal of the House-duty. If the Malt-tax had been (in part even) repealed, it would have prevented the labourers from going to beer-shops, and thereby do good to them and their employers.
§ Mr. Clay
agreed with the abstract proposition, that the best relief to a community was a relief from taxation. He considered the repeal of the House-duty to be beneficial to the agricultural, as well as the manufacturing, or commercial in- 672 terest; for, surely, farmers lived in houses, and their landlords, he supposed, also lived in rather splendid houses. So far, then, the agriculturists would share in the relief afforded by the repeal of the House-duty equally with the other classes in the community. It was but right to repeal the House-duty, for it was grossly partial, to say the least of it; and a partial tax was always oppressive. Already had the Beer-duty been taken off to benefit the agriculturists—the duty on spirits also had been much reduced; and as to the consumption of malt, it had increased amazingly since the year 1820.
thus showing an increase between these periods of 44 per cent in the consumption of malt. It was charged against the Government, that it had yielded the repeal of the House-duty to the cry raised against it by the town people; and even had they done so, they would, in his opinion, have been fully justified. He voted for its repeal, not for the sake of the number of his constituents, large as they were, but for the cause of justice.
In 1820 the number of bushels of malt was 27,889,310 In 1853 40,164,783
§ Lord Howick
only rose to correct a great mistake which had been just now committed by the hon. member for Oldham, when he laid it down as an incontrovertible position, that poor-rates bore an exact proportion to the general taxation of the years 1812 and 1832. Since the hon. Member had made his speech, he (Lord Howick), had consulted the returns, and he found that
while the whole amount of taxation was
In 1812, the poor-rates were £6,656,000 In 1833 6,731,000
thus showing the difference in the poor-rates to be little more than 100,000l., while the difference in the general taxation amounted to 19,000,000l.
In 1812, about £65,000,000 In 1832, about. 46,000,000
said, the repeal of the House-duty had his cordial support, for it was monstrous that the Metropolis alone had to pay fully the one-third of it. With respect to the poor-rates, he would observe, that the population of the Metropolis and of Yorkshire were nearly equal: The rental of the Metropolis was, in 1814, 5,700,000l., and of Yorkshire, 4,709,000l., while the amount of the poor-rate paid by 673 Yorkshire was 450,000l., whereas the Metropolis paid 680,000l.
§ Mr. Cartwright
did not rise to enter into a discussion of the question of agricultural distress. He wished to remind the noble Lord (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) that he had stated at a county meeting, held at Northampton, that he would not support a Motion for the repeal of the Malt-tax, but he should leave that to the Ministers. The noble Lord, however, had learned a good deal since he had been Chancellor of the Exchequer, and had improved himself upon the subject. He (Mr. Cartwright) had seen the heads of what he supposed was to be expected from the Board of Commissioners on the Poor-laws, and he was not sanguine as to the result. The agriculturists were under an obligation to the noble Marquess for treating the question in the way in which he had; and he would give the Amendment of the noble Marquess his hearty concurrence.
said, that his hon. friend, the member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Clay), had observed, that if a remission of the House-tax would not relieve the agriculturists, it was, because they had been improperly exempted from its operation; but if that hon. Gentleman would let him (Mr. Cayley) his house in London for the same rent that a house in the country of equal accommodation would fetch, then he would willingly pay the tax upon it. The tax upon a well-situated house in the Metropolis, being rated according to its value in the market, was as large or larger than the entire rent of a house of equal size in the country. Each should be taxed in the ratio of the rent; or in proportion to their marketable value. The noble Lord (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) said, that he did not anticipate any great relief to the land from any remission of direct public taxation. He agreed with the noble Lord; but was that a reason for believing that agriculture was not in distress? The main cause of the complaint of the agriculturists was, that they had invested an enormous amount of capital in land on the faith of a Parliamentary sanction of a certain rate of prices; the maintenance of that rate of prices could alone return to them the common rate of interest for the money they had sunk; and Parliament had deprived them of those prices, and with that had deprived them of their property. 674 Of what use was it to talk of our property being relieved from public taxation, when it was gone? An eminent writer, in a celebrated Northern Review, stated, that the interest alone of capital invested in the improvement of the soil, amounted to 24,000,000l. sterling—equivalent to a principal of 800,000,000l. sterling. If one-third or one-half of those soils were thrown out of cultivation by a fall in prices, what was that but a confiscation of 300,000,000l. or 400,000,000l. of landed property? And yet Members were taunted with the high-sounding names of national faith and public robbery, when they intimate a desire to keep up prices to that point which had been sanctioned by Parliament. To effect a rise in prices, which they might effect, was the only efficient mode of relieving the agriculturist. The noble Lord (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) proposed to relieve the agriculturists by some alteration of the Poor-laws; no one could be more thoroughly convinced than he was of the impolicy and demoralizing tendency of those laws; but did the noble Lord expect to effect any amendment in them, during a period when there was a great and a growing deficiency of employment for agricultural labourers? The only means of securing an efficient alteration, was to stimulate employment, by raising the price of agricultural produce. But was it to relieve agricultural distress that an amendment in the Poor-laws was first proposed? Had not the Poor-law commissioners sat two or three years; whilst it was only last Session, or the beginning of this, that the House could be prevailed upon to acknowledge the existence of distress? The other project of the noble Lord to relieve the farmers was, an alteration in the tithe system. It was recommended to amend the system of tithes long before Parliament admitted the existence of agricultural distress. And what was the relief to be expected from those two projects? His constituents, in Yorkshire, were not overborne by poor-rates—which were not more, on an average, than 1s. 6d. or 2s. in the pound;—and many of them were tithe-free. But what immediate benefit could those who were not tithe-free expect? If a general law were to pass on this subject, how bitterly hard would it fall on individual cases! The tithe owners had been in the habit of remitting their claims in various proportions from ten to fifty per cent; 675 and clerical tithe-owners were professedly more lenient in their exactions than the lay impropriators. The noble Lord, the Paymaster of the Forces, stated, in the Agricultural Committee, that if capital had been invested on the silent sanction of an habitual remission of thirty and fifty per cent, it would be a total confiscation to make a general tithe commutation on a basis of a twenty Per cent remission. No remarks made in the course of the debate had more influenced him to rise than those which had been made on the high price of wool. His right hon. friend, the First Lord of the Admiralty, in the Resolutions which he proposed, and on which was founded the Report of the Committee, attributed the rise in the price of wool to the great loss by the rot of sheep. He ventured to divide the Committee upon that question, and it decided, that the rise was to be referred to the loss of sheep. The noble Lord (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) said, the rise was from 9d. to 2s. a pound, that it was a great advantage to the farmer, and must have been occasioned by the late fillip in our manufactures. But how could it be an advantage to the man who had lost the whole of his flock? To him it must be a loss, even if he had capital, to renew his stock. The upland farmers had been kept in existence by the ruin of their brethren, but for them to be merry on such an occasion, would be like the delicate exultation of a second brother at the untimely end of the eldest born. But even the upland farmer had not been in a very fit condition to take advantage of this rise in wool:—The greatest rise had taken place since last clipping-time; in other words, since the wool left the farmer's hands: he, therefore, had not reaped the benefit of it. It would be in the recollection of the House, that, immediately subsequent to 1825, there were two or three years of successive draught, which, on the wolds of Yorkshire, destroyed many flocks; and when water occasionally was had, fifty and sixty in a flock would die in consequence of drinking; thus, before the wet seasons came, the drought had diminished the upland stocks, and their wasted capital had been too small to replenish them fully, so that the high price had only benefited the upland farmers on a diminished flock. He could show, from a valuable Return (entitled Trade and Navigation) lately laid on the Table, that the rise in wool 676 was essentially connected with its scarcity. Notwithstanding that rise, it appeared by the Return, that, in the year ending January, 1833, the importation of sheep and lambswool into this country was 23,128,973lbs., and in the year ending January, 1834, 38,475,247lbs.; being an increase of upwards of 10,000,0001bs. in one year, which, if there had been no scarcity, would have depressed the price of wool. A good deal was said by hon. Members about the difficulties in the way of our export trade, from Corn-laws and the high price of raw materials; yet the declared value of the export of woollen manufactures in the year ending January, 1833, was 5,479,866l., and in the year ending January, 1834, 6,511,780l. Notwithstanding the immense rise in the raw material, then, there had been an actual increase in our export of woollen manufactures. Another proof of the present comparative high price in mutton and beef being in consequence of the decay of the flocks was, that if it were caused by an increased consumption, it would be accompanied by a rise in bacon also; but the price of bacon was never so low. In the markets in Yorkshire, it was, at Christmas, from 3s. 9d. to 4s. 3d. per stone. The present price of fresh meat as well as of wool, was to be attributed to the loss of the flocks, and when and how that was to be remedied was a matter for serious contemplation. The cold clay and wet soils had rotted sheep; and the farmer, jealous of trusting to them, or unable to buy sheep, had scourged his land by a severe course of tillage, until it had gone out of cultivation, being too expensive to cultivate, at the present prices. A considerable portion of the old sheep-walks, in consequence of the low price of live stock immediately after 1825, the introduction of bone manure, and the rise in wheat during the wet seasons of 1828, 1829, 1830, and 1831, (which was favourable to their crops on the high lands,) had been broken up; and these soils now, in a great measure, supplied our wheat. It was a problem, therefore, how the former supply of wool could be replenished, as far as our own soils were concerned. Turn your cold clay soils to grass, said the town-bred political economist. Nothing betrayed the ignorance of these theorists more than that ignorant assumption. Did they know how land got out of cultivation, or why? It was because the 677 price was insufficient to pay the cost of production; but it was not thrown up at once in a rich state fit to lay down for pasture; the farmer losing more and more every year, put less and less manure upon it, till, at last, he merely ran his plough through it, till it would produce no more. When its vegetative powers were exhausted, they were told to turn it to pasture. Under the most favourable circumstances it took eight years to create a good pasture, and that at a considerable expense; but, under the circumstances supposed, it would be at a sacrifice of many yearsrent, and of fifteen or eighteen years of time. There was yet another very alarming symptom in the state of our agriculture. The old heavy wheat soils could not be kept in cultivation at the present prices. The upland wheat soils, particularly the limestone heights, yielded as much wheat as barley; and as it was a more certain and more valuable crop, it had, of late, grown into a custom with the necessitous farmer, not to follow the usual course of turnips, barley, seeds, and wheat, but to grow wheat both before and after seeds. That course of cultivation could not last, and then upon what was the country to depend for wheaten bread? If scarcity of corn did not produce famine as of old, it would lead inevitably to a much higher range of prices than what the agriculturists were now seeking; for. And for what purpose?—to give a momentary stimulus to our export trade. Much had been said of the identity of interest between the agriculture and trade of this country: in that doctrine he was a thorough believer, so far as it related to the internal trade of the country. That was corroborated by the depression of the agricultural and inland towns, and the retail trade, with London at its head, contemporaneously with our agriculture. But the export trade was distinct from the internal trade, and might flourish when the other was depressed. Manchester and some other towns, so far as they ex-port manufacture, was concerned,—and Liverpool, which had a commission on every export and import,—might be thriving when the rest of the community were bordering on a state of ruin. It was plain that the export trade might prosper when the internal demand had comparatively ceased. Although the disastrous state of our agriculture was ably described by the right hon. Chairman of the Committee in his Report last year, there were some strong 678 points, either omitted, or not sufficiently dwelt upon, which he would briefly refer to. One of the most alarming was, the great diminution of the capital of the tenantry, so that, if the landlords were to be exacting and to sell them up, not more on the average than about one-third would be in a state of solvency. The ancient yeomen, with a property of from 50l. to 300l. per annum, had rapidly and sensibly diminished, and, in some instances, had been even entirely swept away within the last fifteen years, and a considerable consolidation of landed property had taken place, cither from a union of small properties by monied capitalists, or by the largest proprietors adding small parcels to their estates. The ancient usage of farmers having stocks of grain in their rick-yards, at periods shortly antecedent to harvests, had been, for a lew years past, a matter of rare occurrence. The cultivation for some years without profit, and the exhaustion of the capital of the tenant, had produced the natural result of a scourging of the land; and a diminished produce from a given portion of the soil was the consequence. The exhaustion of the capital, in many instances, of more than one race of tenantry, had caused a scarcity of tenants with capital among the children of yeomen and farmers, out of which the best tenants had hitherto been obtained. The necessities of the farmer had induced him to force his cattle on the market at an earlier age, so as to trench upon his breeding stock, and to produce a scarcity of live stock—a scarcity greatly aggravated by three or four years' rot among the sheep. A reduction in rent of 10 to 50 per cent had been submitted to by the landlords since the war; but in order to bestow on the tenantry a means of livelihood or possibility of profit, under a wheat price of 53s. or 54s. per quarter, a further reduction of from 20 to 30 percent, must, be submitted to. A compulsory reduction to that extent was alarming enough to induce the Legislature to interfere to prevent it; but when he stated that since the Committee sat, wheat had experienced a further fall of 7s. or 8s. per quarter, and if this depression remained, a reduction in rents must take place, at least 50 per cent, on the whole; whilst, in many instances, large tracts of land must go out of cultivation, and rent entirely cease. In conclusion, he would affirm, that nothing which the Government had proposed to 679 do would operate as an efficient remedy, or even lessen, much less remove agricultural distress. The disease was too deeply seated to be got rid of by superficial nostrums. That disease was caused by a change in the value of money to an almost inconceivable extent; and the cure must be effected by some modification of our present monetary system. He was disinclined to oppose the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but his publicduty left him no alternative, and he meant to vote for the Motion of the noble Marquess.
§ Mr. Tower
could not repress his surprise at the speech of the hon. member for Bridgenorth. Most persons admitted, that all those burthens, direct and indirect, which fall exclusively on agriculture, should be reduced before the Corn-laws were altered; it was reserved for the hon. member for Bridgenorth, who had given notice of a Motion to effect an alteration in the Corn-laws, to contend that they ought to remove the protection and continue these burthens. His noble friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had stated that, in his financial arrangements, he was consulting the best mode of effecting the prosperity of all classes. He begged, however, to ask the noble Lord, how it came to pass, if whatever promoted the prosperity of the manufacturers was sure to increase the wealth of the agriculturists, that the price of corn, and, indeed, of all other articles of agricultural produce (wool only excepted), had, for many months past materially fallen? The average price of wheat was only 48s. and a fraction. Under these circumstances, he meant to vote for the Motion of the noble Marquess.
§ Mr. Lambert
felt himself compelled to vote for the original Motion. He was certainly much inclined to give every possible relief to the agricultural classes; but were he to support the Amendment, he should in effect be voting for a repeal of the Malt-tax, which he could not do. The noble Marquess assumed that the distress which had fallen on the landed interest was owing to the pressure of taxation. This he denied. In his opinion it was attributable to the alteration which had taken place in the currency. Certainly there did exist great distress amongst the agricultural classes, particularly in Ireland. He had asked a very intelligent farmer in his district, why he had forsaken his plough and taken to agitation? and 680 the reply he obtained was this:—" I minded my plough as long as my plough paid me; but now were I to attend to my plough as I once did when my agricultural pursuits brought me an adequate return for my industry, my plough would produce nothing but ruin; but agitation may possibly give me something." This was a most distressing state of things, and demanded the utmost inquiry and attention on the part of the Legislature. The Legislature had done the wrong, and it was bound to administer the remedy. It was not yet too late. The measure of confiscation was not yet complete. The independent body of farmers, though dwindled away, was not yet extinct. The remedy, however, was very different to that suggested by the noble Marquess, and though he respected his motives, he could not support his proposition.
§ Mr. Cutlar Fergusson
observed, that the noble Marquess called upon the House, by his Amendment, to express its conviction that the agricultural part of the community ought to be entitled to any reduction which could be made in the shape of taxation. Everything which had taken place, from the moment his Majesty pronounced his Speech, to the Debate on this question, showed the justice of that proposition. It appeared that there was a surplus revenue which might be applicable to the reduction of taxation, and it also appeared that the manufacturing interest was in prosperity, and that all the relief which had yet been given by a reduction of taxation, had been given to the trading and commercial interest. No answer had been made to the statement of the noble Marquess, that no relief had been given to the agricultural interest.
§ Mr. Robinson
could not help remarking upon some arguments which had been used in the course of the Debate. It was assumed that the agricultural interests, without any exception, were in a state of unmitigated distress, and that commerce and manufactures were in a state of progressive improvement. If this were, indeed, the case, the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, might well be asked why he gave relief exclusively to that class which was in a prosperous condition. But he must beg leave to contradict the assumption that, because the King's Speech made such a statement, therefore it must necessarily be true. He certainly admitted that distress did prevail 681 to a considerable extent amongst the agricultural classes, and he should be glad if it could be relieved, but the noble Marquess must excuse him if he begged to remind him that, in the able and manly speech with which he had introduced this question on behalf of the agricultural interest, he had not stated any means by which the existing distress was to be relieved. He had merely moved a Resolution, stating that the agricultural interest ought to obtain a portion of whatever relief could be given to the people? Now how was that to be effected? If this motion were granted, the noble Lord could not give up the House-duty. If he were to compromise the matter and say, "I will give 600,000l. to the householders, 600,000l. to the agriculturists, he (Mr. Robinson) would be glad to know what relief this amount would be to the lower classes? It appeared to him, therefore, that this proposition could lead to no result. One word with respect to the assumed prosperity of commerce and manufactures. It seemed the measure of mercantile and commercial prosperity was taken by the quantity, while the prosperity of the agricultural interests was estimated by the returns. Let them, at least, have the same data for calculating the success or depression of either of those interests. Let it not be said that, because the manufacturers sent abroad so many millions more yards of cotton, therefore, manufactures must necessarily be in a flourishing condition. He would ask the noble Lord, supposing he had sent last year 150 sheep to market, and received 150l. for them, and that this year he sent 200 and got but 100l. in return, would he consider this a proof of agricultural prosperity? And yet such was the calculation which was adopted in the case of commerce and manufactures. He affirmed that the commercial interests, although not so much distressed as the agricultural interests, were far from being in such a state of prosperity as the King's Speech would Seem to imply. But there was one interest which had not been alluded to at all during the discussion—he meant the shipping interest. In a consideration of the great leading interests of the country was the shipping interest of so little importance that it ought to be completely lost sight of, and not even mentioned? He could assure the House, that if this proposition were adopted he should feel it his 682 duty, on the next Motion for a Committee of Supply, to bring forward a similar proposition in favour of the shipping interest, for he considered it equally entitled with the other interests to a share of whatever the Chancellor of the Exchequer might have to spare. He maintained that whatever distress prevailed amongst the agricultural classes, there was equal or greater depression in the shipping interest, if that distress was to be measured by loss of capital or diminution of profits. He could not vote for the proposition of the noble Marquess, not because he did not sympathise with the distress of the agriculturists as well as of any other class, but because he thought that the Resolution, if adopted, would lead to no good whatever.
§ Sir George Phillips
said, that while he fully admitted the right of the agriculturists to participate in whatever relief could be afforded to the country, he thought the means proposed by his noble friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, would be more effectual for that purpose than those suggested by the noble Marquess. With respect to the repeal of the Malt-tax, he maintained that that would be no relief to the farmers generally; because, as the noble Lord stated, it was amongst the farmers of heavy lands, on which barley was not grown, that the greatest distress prevailed. The only other remedy proposed in the course of the discussion, was that suggested by the hon. member for Wexford—namely, a return to paper money. Now he (Sir George Phillips) thought that he greatest relief would be afforded by a better administration of the Poor-laws. He was convinced that the agriculturists themselves would feel a measure for the Amendment of those Laws, to be the greatest concession that could be made to them, for the great outcry amongst the farmers was directed against the poor-rates. That measure and the commutation of tithes could not fail to afford the most important relief. He concurred with his noble friend that relief could not be afforded to one class without the other interests feeling the benefit of it; and he was sure that the reduction of taxes which had taken place, and which was to take place, would be attended with the greatest possible benefit to all parties.
§ Sir Henry Willoughby
said, that, although the example had been set him, he should not enter into the question either 683 of the Currency or the Corn-laws, but would confine himself to the question before the House, which appeared to him to be simply this;—If the Chancellor of the Exchequer could reduce taxes, what was the principle which should regulate the House in that reduction? He admitted that the repeal of the House-tax had been so pressed upon the noble Lord, both on account of the severity of its operation in the neighbouring districts, and in consequence of certain pledges which had been given, that, placed where he was, he could not well refuse to repeal that tax. But it was for the House to consider what was the principle upon which taxes should be reduced, so as best to reconcile the conflicting interests of the country. He assumed that the agricultural distress was admitted and proved, and that the commercial prosperity was, as the hon. Member below him (Mr. Robinson) said, at least doubtful. The arguments of the honorable member for Ipswich, who had seconded the Address, seemed to him to be built upon a sandy ground; for that hon. Member, in order to establish the prosperity of commerce and manufactures, confined himself to a calculation of the quantity of work done, leaving wholly unnoticed the question of the rate of profit at which that work was done. If the question related to a particular branch—the cotton trade, for instance—the Vice-President of the Board of Trade would find no difficulty in telling the House what was the best mode of upholding that trade. The right hon. Gentleman would, as he had done last year, repeal the duty on the raw material. And why should not the same course be pursued in reference to the most important of our national productions—agricultural produce. If it were possible for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to reduce the burthens of the agriculturists, he would effect two good objects—he would not only reduce taxation, but would enable the grower to bring his produce to the market at a smaller price, and to compete with the foreigner. If the Malt-tax were reduced, not only would the consumers of beer be able to procure the article on lower terms, but the growers of barley would be enabled to produce it at a cheaper rate, and to enter into competition with the foreigner, if at a future period it should be deemed advisable to make any alteration in the Corn-law. With regard to the amendment of the 684 Poor-laws and the commutation of tithes, he did not expect from those measures the immediate relief which the Chancellor of the Exchequer anticipated from them. On the contrary, he thought they would, in the first instance, be attended with considerable expense, which must be borne by the country.
said, he would vote for a repeal of the Malt-tax, whenever that question came before the House. In the mean time he strongly recommended his Majesty's Ministers to impose a tax upon absentees. The present system was a premium upon absenteeism, because a man by going out of the country escaped from those taxes which he was obliged to pay if he remained in it.
meant to vote for the Motion of the noble Marquess, and he wished to state as briefly as he could his reasons for doing so. He would vote for the repeal of the Malt-tax, and of every other tax which bore upon agriculture, because he knew that the Chancellor of the Exchequer never gave up a tax until he was compelled, and the more the reduction of taxation was pressed upon him, the more benefit the country was likely to derive. Another reason for his supporting this proposition was, that if there were a majority in favour of it, there would then be another pressure upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer, by the hon. member for Worcester, on behalf of the shipping interest. The noble Lord very candidly admitted that he yielded to these pressures. He talked of the unpopularity of a tax, which unpopularity meant nothing more than the extent to which its reduction was pressed upon him by the people. He appealed to the House whether, in this wisest of all countries, we had not been guilty of one of the greatest possible blunders with respect to the debt. The country owed 1000,000,000l., and was thus in the situation of an individual who owed 1,000l., and went to his creditor and said, "I owe you 1,000l., and I am very ill able to pay you, but I will tell you what I will do, instead of 20s. in the pound, I will pay you thirty shillings." That was done by the wisest nation on the face of the earth. One-half at least was added to the value of the currency in order to enable the country to pay its debt. Another wise notion was, that taking off taxes would be no relief. He thought it an established proverb in this country, that a shilling 685 saved is a shilling gained. Every man knew that if he was obliged to pay away a shilling he could not keep it in his pocket; and yet it was said that the taking off of taxes would be of no relief. He should like to try at all events. But, absurd and preposterous as these things were, there was a solecism, in the conduct of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which, considering the King's speech, was more inexplicable than any thing that had ever appeared before the public. The King's speech represented the commercial interests as being in a thriving condition, and the agricultural interests in a state of depression. The commercial interests were to be stated at the highest rate of prosperity and the excellent and accomplished political economist who seconded the address proved, by the most conclusive specimens of vulgar arithmetic, that that prosperity was real and substantial. As to the agricultural distress, every one was agreed upon that point, and distress prevailed in England, Scotland, and Ireland. Even in Ireland, where they differed as to everything else, they agreed in that statement. Commerce was prosperous, and agriculture was distressed, "and therefore," the noble Lord said, "I will give relief to commerce and none to agriculture." That was the amount of what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said. Yes, yes, that was the plain English of it. Let him ask in sober sadness, was it not admitted that the agricultural interest was depressed? Had any man connected with them one third of the income he enjoyed during the war,—certainly no man had one half; at least he would answer for it that was the case in Ireland. Few had one third, and certainly no man had two-thirds. But he would tell the House who had increased incomes; those persons who were proprietors of the public debt. They got three times what they were entitled to. It must be looked to. The interest of the debt must be reduced. It was 29 millions. Let the noble Lord strike off one-sixth of the interest, and that would give him four millions and a-half to begin with; let him then come and reduce taxation to the amount of four and a half millions. He heard a great deal of talk of justice and national faith, and everything else. Talk of the cant of national faith indeed! He contended that national faith so called was national injustice. The 686 reports year after year proved that the distress of the country was increasing. First hope was held out to the people. That hope was disappointed; and then came despair and darkness, only illuminated by the flames kindled in the agricultural counties by the incendiaries. The gentlemen who questioned this fact could not be in the habit of reading the newspapers. He had never perceived, amongst the monied interest, who were so anxious to enhance the currency, the slightest feeling of compassion for the sufferings of the agricultural classes. It was said that we ought not to talk of adverse interests. But the people and the proprietors of the debt had adverse interests. The people wanted to pay them as cheaply as they could, and the proprietors were determined to get as much as possible. Let the Government reduce the interest of the debt and the amount of taxation; and, at the end of twelve months, if one-sixth were not sufficient, let them take off another sixth from the interest. He knew the noble Lord (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) had a great deal of poetic imagination. He had given a most poetic description of the future prospects of the country. He had depicted green and glowing fields, verdant valleys, and everything that, a virtuoso could desire; but he held out no prospect of a reduction of the debt; he gave no encouragement that in a thousand years it would be reduced by a thousandth part; but by his plan there would, at least be a beginning. Determined as he was to vote for lessening the taxes as much as possible, he should support the proposition of the noble Marquess.
Mr. Secretary Stanley
could not deny the existence of agricultural distress, The Committee of last Session proved it; and his Majesty's speech at the opening of the present Session declared it. If, therefore, the Resolution proposed by the noble Marquess went only to confirm that report, and that declaration, he should not feel any strong objection to it. But, after what had passed that night, he thought the House ought to look a little further into the practical effect of the noble Marquess's motion. He did not pretend to impute to the supporters of the motion generally the motives by which the hon. and learned member for Dublin had declared he was actuated. He entertained much too great a respect for most of 687 them to cast upon them any such imputation. But, after what had passed, he begged the House to look at the practical result. The motion had been supported on grounds which, if acquiesced in by the House, would lead, not to the benefit or injury of one particular interest merely, but to universal confusion. The hon. and learned member for Dublin had just told the House, that his noble friend (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) never gave up a single tax till he was driven to it. "Use force with the Chancellor of the Exchequer," said the hon. and learned Gentleman, "and he will acquiesce in your proposition." Now, really he (Mr. Stanley) did not think that that was a charge to which his noble friend was peculiarly liable. The hon. and learned Gentleman, however, declared, that he would vote for the motion of the noble Marquess, because it would follow as an irresistible consequence that the Malt tax must be taken off. He knew that the repeal of that tax would be popular, not only on account of its large amount, but of its nature. But the interests of Ireland, about which the hon. and learned Member always seemed peculiarly solicitous, surely her interests would not be advanced by the repeal of the Malt-ax? He would put it to the right hon. member for Tamworth (Sir R. Peel) whether he was prepared to support the proposition of the hon. and learned Member for repealing the Malt-tax,—to that right hon. Member who asserted that 1,200,000l. were all that it was possible to take off from the burthens of the country by a diminution of taxation? He would ask the hon. member for Essex (Mr. Baring), who had bitterly reproached the Government for encroaching on the diminished margin of the surplus revenue, whether he was prepared to favour the abstraction of 5,000,000l. from the interest of the national debt? A partial reduction of the Malt-tax would not afford that degree of relief to the agricultural interest which some hon. Members might expect. To take off half the tax would not be a removal of half the burthen, for the expense of collection would remain pretty nearly as at present. A more conclusive and satisfactory statement than that which the House had just heard from the hon. and learned member for Dublin he had never heard—a statement in the course of which, the learned Gentleman showed that he 688 was prepared to provide for what the hon. member for Essex once denominated "the margin of taxation" by a direct incroachment on the interest of the public debt. This was the learned Gentleman's mode of filling up the margin. The hon. and learned Gentleman proposed an immediate reduction of one-sixth of the interest of the national debt; and if that should not be sufficient, he would reduce another sixth in twelve months. He had heard the other night with surprise some mention made of "the pretext of an Act of Parliament;" but with infinitely more astonishment did he now hear the learned Gentleman talk in a British Parliament of" the cant of national faith!" He granted that the mode in which the present repetition of that expression was received, and the tone of contemptuous derision with which it had been originally met, fully vindicated the House from the charge of partaking in any such absurd and profligate opinions. He owned "profligate," was a very strong expression—of course he meant "profligate opinions" in the sense of principles leading directly to acts of political profligacy—but he could not make use of a lighter term when characterizing the sentiments referred to. He rejoiced to hear the tone of derision with which the House had received the hon. Gentleman's observation, inasmuch as that unequivocal expression of feeling saved the House from all suspicion, vindicated it from the imputation of participating in the sentiment, and sustained within the walls of Parliament, not "the cant," but the high principles of integrity, and national faith and honour. He had merely risen for the purpose of commenting on the hon. and learned Gentleman's expression, and also to call the attention of the House to the fact, that a great number of those who were prepared to form part of what he expected to be the majority, might do so without entering into every financial consequence, but simply because they would not, by so large an abolition of taxation, endanger the national honour, which they were determined to uphold and vindicate. He should only add, that according to every maxim of political prudence, the House ought not to accede to a Resolution on the ground that it merely contained the assertion of a truism, without being prepared to follow out the principles of that truism in the way which its supporters advocated.
§ Sir Robert Peel
concurred in all the sentiments expressed by the right hon. Gentleman at the conclusion of his speech. Nothing could be more painful than to be compelled to vote on the same side with those who avowed opinions that were in direct opposition to every principle of honour and national faith. He should be ashamed of himself, however, if he let a consideration of that nature deter him from the course which a sense of public duty required him to pursue. He rejoiced to hear the hon. and learned member for Dublin avow his political creed, because when they came, in a few days hence, to the consideration of the Repeal of the Union, they would bear in mind under what auspices, and with what views that measure was proposed. "O all you," exclaimed the right hon. Baronet "who have interest in the funds in Ireland—O all you Protestants who hold lands in Ireland, learn, by this timely declaration, what your fate will be when you shall have been delivered up to the tender mercies of a popular assembly, returned by the influence and adopting the principles of this man, who makes a jest of national honour, and talks of the Cant of public faith."
"I thank thee, Jew, for teaching me that word." The question of the Repeal of the Union had been decided by that preliminary declaration. Who that had anything to lose would not draw the inference, that if such slender pretences could be brought forward to justify the violation of national faith, there could be no security for any property of any description?
While, therefore, he voted on the same side with the hon. and learned Gentleman, he could not too strongly express his abhorrence of the principles which he professed. He was not prepared to admit, as a necessary consequence, that an acquiescence in this Motion must lead to a violation of the national faith. He, for one, would not consent to grant any relief even to the agricultural interest at the expense of disturbing confidence in public credit. They were placed, however, in these circumstances. The noble Lord had stated the other night, in what he must call a very unusual and premature declaration, that the national revenue was in an exceedingly prosperous condition, and that he had a certain sum to apply to the remission of taxation. The noble Lord said, that he was rather inclined for a Repeal of the House-tax, but he added, "that he would 690 leave the matter open for a certain period, so that each Member might present his plan to the House; and if any hon. Gentleman should succeed in inducing the House to prefer any other tax for remission, he would not propose to repeal the House-tax." With such an avowal as this, such an advertisement for counter-proposals, it would be perfect treason, on the part of those representing any interest requiring a remission of taxation, not to urge their claims. The noble Lord, too, was a perfectly fair arbitrator, for his mind seemed quite free from bias in favour of his own proposal. He said, that he had given a sort of pledge to repeal the House-tax; but he admitted, that there were other taxes which he thought it would be much better to repeal. Now, they could relieve the noble Lord from the difficulty of his pledge, by proposing the remission of some one of those other taxes which the noble Lord himself thought a better tax to repeal. The noble Lord was the last person to object to this gentle violence. There never was so clear an invitation to be ravished. The noble Lord had consulted his friends, the political economists, and they had convinced him, that the House-tax was not the tax which he should repeal; therefore, he would, for six months, give a clear stage and no favour to all those who were anxious to make him change his course. Now, they had this admission from the noble Lord,—that the agricultural interest was so intimately connected with the commercial and the manufacturing interests, that the best mode of advancing and improving it would be to extend our commerce and manufactures by opening new markets; byre-moving those regulations, as well fiscal as political, which interfered with or impeded their extension. These observations were very just. The agricultural classes would be benefited by the extension of our commerce; but, he would ask the noble Lord, whether the House-tax was one—the remission of which would remove the pressure from the springs of industry, or tend to give to our manufactures new encouragement in foreign markets? Nobody would say, that the repeal of the House-tax would afford any relief, either direct or indirect, to the agricultural classes. And why not attempt to repeal some tax which should benefit them. There were few taxes less open to just objections than a House-tax levied on fair principles. It partook something of the nature of a Property-tax, 691 without its inquisitorial character. The House-tax fell much more on the higher than on the lower classes. If the noble Lord had been anxious to afford relief to the agricultural interest, the repeal of the Window-tax would, in some measure, effect that; but he doubted, whether it would be possible to select any tax, or duties of any kind, to an equivalent amount, the reduction of which would not give more alleviation to the agricultural interest than the reduction of the House-tax would give. It had been stated, in the course of the Debate, that considerable relief would be afforded to the agriculturists, by some intended alterations in the Poor-laws. He thought that an alteration of the Poor-laws was necessary not merely to the agricultural interest, but to all interests. He believed that the independence, the comfort, and the happiness of the lower classes were intimately involved in the sound consideration and amendment of the Poor-laws. But, when the evils had become so manifold and so complicated, many years must elapse before any very perceptible improvement could be effected, or any great relief could be afforded to the agricultural interest. It was a delusion to the agricultural tenancy of England, to say, that any measure connected with the Poor-laws could afford them immediate benefit. It was not his (Sir R. Peel's) intention to go into the question of the Malt-tax, or endeavour to show that the remission of any part of it would afford great relief to the agriculturists. He would, however, express his anxious wish, that the noble Lord would appoint a Commission to inquire into the bearing of different taxes, general and local, on the various classes of the community, to see whether the present system of taxation did not unduly press on the farming and agricultural classes in particular. He was anxious that such an inquiry should extend to the whole of the local taxation, to the expense of criminal prosecutions, to the maintenance of country bridges and roads, to ascertain whether the pressure was anything like equal on the different classes. He doubted much whether the necessary expense for ensuring the security of life and property, namely, the punishment of crime, did not fall with extreme weight on the land. The towns chiefly contributed the criminals, and the land almost the whole expense of bringing them to justice. 692 Some observations had been made with respect to the surcharges to which persons in large towns were liable in consequence of the operation of the Assessed-taxes. Now he (Sir R. Peel) would venture to say, that the surcharges on land were not less in amount or less vexatious than those which occurred in towns, and the surcharges on the county were not so easily got rid of. In towns, in case of injustice, the neighbours met together, public meetings were called, and memorials were sent to the Treasury; but, in the country districts, the power of remonstrance was much less effectual, from the absence of all combination, and the want of knowledge as to the best mode of resistance. He had that morning received a letter which had been sent to him in consequence of some observations with which he troubled the House the other evening. The person who sent the letter, and of whom he (Sir Robert Peel,) knew nothing, had seen in a newspaper some observations of his, and had he not seen them, would probably have remained silent under a grievous oppression. The letter was from Oundle in North-amptonshire, the county which the Chancellor of the Exchequer represented. The writer stated, that he held a dairy farm at a rental of 200l. a year, and his farm was the only means he had of obtaining a livelihood. He was possessed of a horse, which he used entirely for the purposes of his farm. Last year, he was greatly surprised to find himself charged for this horse by the tax-gatherer as for a riding-horse. The writer of the letter said, that he appealed against this charge, but his appeal was dismissed because, according to the Commissioners, "grazing," was not "farming" within the meaning of the Act. The farmer very naturally asked, whether there was any authority for this decision. Yes, was the reply; and they referred him to Johnson's Dictionary. By that work "husbandry" meant "tillage," and "tillage" meant "ploughing." The charge, therefore, was ordered to be confirmed, because the farmer had no ploughed land. He very naturally asked whether, if he ploughed a part of the land, and left the remainder as a grazing farm, he should be still liable to the charge; and the reply was, "Yes, unless the greater portion of the farm is ploughed." How many isolated cases of this kind might occur in the country, and how much hardship might be inflicted without its being known! Whereas, 693 in towns, publicity would instantly be given to the cause of complaint, and publicity would most probably be followed by redress. He hoped, that the noble Lord would be induced to see whether he could not altogether relieve the agricultural classes from taxes which pressed on them in this vexatious manner. He had not intended to address the House; but he felt anxious to do so in consequence of the observations of the hon. and learned Gentleman. He wished, as he voted with the hon. and learned member for Dublin, utterly to disavow any participation in his opinions. The hon. and learned Gentleman reminded him of the elephant wounded in battle, which was often more dangerous to its friends than its foes. One remark only he wished to make before he sat down. It had been stated, with a view to show that the agricultural classes were not in such a distressed state as had been represented, that the price of British wool had risen considerably. Now, the high price of wool, instead of being an indication of the prosperity of the agricultural classes, was rather an indication of their distress. He had no doubt that that rise in price had chiefly been the consequence of the prevalence of wet during the last three years, and the consequent diminution of the flocks. He did not believe that the increase in the price of wool afforded anything like a remuneration to the farmer for the loss in his flocks. It was observed, that at present the price of wool was high, whilst that of corn was low. He feared that the farmer had been obliged, in many instances, in consequence of the pressure of his difficulties, to plough up his grazing land; to realize an immediate gain at the risk of permanent injury, and that, in consequence, corn had become unusually abundant, and wool unusually scarce. No man, he thought, could deny that the agricultural classes laboured under great distress. It had been said, that this would be diminished by repealing the Corn-laws. He believed, that any such measure would only aggravate the distress. He would not consent to a Repeal of the Corn-laws, because it would make a great and sudden revolution in the relations of the different classes of society, which would be productive of the greatest misery. In conclusion, he would say, that if they had any taxation to remit, it would be right to remit those taxes which bore either directly or indirectly on agri- 694 culture, rather than repeal the tax which had been suggested by the noble Lord. He thought, that the agricultural population had a strong claim to the commiseration of the House, not only, as was admitted, because more distressed than any other class, but also in consequence of the loyalty, the patience, and the submission with which they had long borne the greatest suffering.
§ The House divided on the Amendment—Ayes 202; Noes 206: Majority 4.
|List of the AYES.|
|Aglionby, H. A.||Folkes, Sir W.|
|Arbuthnot, Gen.||Forester, Hon. C. W.|
|Attwood, M.||Fremantle, Sir T.|
|Attwood, T.||Fryer, R.|
|Bankes, W. J.||Gladstone, T.|
|Barnard, E. G.||Gladstone, W. E.|
|Barron, H. W.||Grattan, H.|
|Bethel, R.||Greene, T. G.|
|Blake, M.||Gordon, R.|
|Blandford, Marq. of||Goring, H. D.|
|Blackstone, W. S.||Goulburn, H.|
|Barry, G. S.||Grant, Rt. Hon. C.|
|Baring, A.||Grimston, Lord|
|Baring, H. B.||Gully, J.|
|Bell, M.||Halcombe, J.|
|Benett, J.||Halford, H.|
|Bruce, Lord E.||Hall, B.|
|Bruce, C.||Handley, H.|
|Burrell, Sir C.||Handley, W. F.|
|Butler, Hon. Col.||Handley, B.|
|Castlereagh, Visc.||Hanmer, Sir J.|
|Cartwright, W. R.||Hanmer Col.|
|Chaytor, Sir W.||Harcourt, G. V.|
|Chapman, M. L.||Hardinge, Sir H.|
|Clive, Hon. R. H.||Harvey, D. W.|
|Cobbett, W.||Hayes, Sir E.|
|Cole, Viscount||Henniker, Lord|
|Conolly, Col.||Herbert, Hon. S.|
|Cookes, T. H.||Herries, J. C.|
|Corry, Hon. H. L.||Hodges, T. L.|
|Curteis, Capt.||Hodgson, J.|
|Dashwood, G. H.||Hoskins, K.|
|Daly, J.||Hotham, Lord|
|Dare, R. H.||Houldsworth, T.|
|Darlington, Earl of||Inglis, Sir R.|
|Dawson, E.||Irton, S.|
|Dillwyn, L. W.||Jermyn, Earl|
|Duffield, T.||Jones, Captain|
|Duncombe, Hon. W.||Kerrison, Sir E.|
|Dugdale, W. S.||Kennedy, J.|
|Eastnor, Viscount||Lewis, T. F.|
|Egerton, W. T.||Locke, W.|
|Eastcourt, T. G. B.||Lennard, T. B.|
|Evans, G.||Lincoln, Earl of|
|Fancourt, Major||Lygon, Colonel|
|Ferguson, Sir R. C.||Lalor, P.|
|Fielden, J.||Leech, J.|
|Fielden, W.||Langton, Col. G.|
|Finch, G.||Milton, Viscount|
|Finn, W. F.||Miller, W. H.|
|Fitzsimon, C.||Manners, Lord R.|
|Foley, E.||Miles, W.|
|Maxwell, H.||Surrey, Earl of|
|Maxwell, J.||Talbot, C. R. M.|
|Macnamara, F.||Tynte, C. J. K.|
|Moreton, A. H.||Throckmorton, R. G.|
|Neeld, J.||Talbot, J. H.|
|Neale, Adm. Sir H.||Thompson, P. B.|
|Newark, Viscount||Tower, C. J.|
|Nicholl, J.||Talbot, Jas.|
|Norreys, Lord||Trevor, Hon. G. R.|
|Ossulston, Lord||Tennyson, Charles|
|O'Connell, D.||Tennent, J. E.|
|O'Connell, M.||Townley, R. G.|
|O'Connell, J.||Tyrrell, Sir J.|
|O'Connor, Don||Trelawney, W. L. S.|
|O'Connor, F.||Tullamore, Lord|
|O'Dwyer, A. C.||Townshend, Lord C.|
|Oswald, R. A.||Talbot, J.|
|Parker, Sir H.||Turner, W.|
|Parrott, J.||Verner, Col. W.|
|Palmer, C. F.||Vigors, N. A.|
|Palmer, R.||Verney, Sir H.|
|Pease, J.||Villiers, Viscount|
|Peel, Rt. Hon. Sir R.||Vincent, Sir F.|
|Peel, J.||Wilks, J.|
|Pollock, F.||Winnington, Sir T.|
|Poulter, J.||Winnington, H. J.|
|Plumptre, J. P.||Wason, R.|
|Pigott, R.||Wood, Col.|
|Richards, J.||Williams, R.|
|Rider, T.||Willoughby, Sir H.|
|Rippon, C.||Windham, W. H.|
|Ruthven, E.||Weyland, Major R.|
|Ruthven, F. S.||Wall, C. B.|
|Roche, W.||Whitmore, T. C.|
|Roche, D.||Williams, Colonel|
|Rooper, J. B.||Wallace, T.|
|Russell, Lord C. J.||Wilmot, Sir G.|
|Rickford, W.||Watkins, L. V.|
|Ross, C.||Williams, T. P.|
|Stewart, J.||Walker, C. A.|
|Simeon, Sir R. G.||Wallace, R.|
|Stanley, E.||Williams, W.|
|Shaw, Fred.||Yorke, Capt.|
|Scott, Sir E.||Young, G. F.|
|Sanderson, R.||Young, J.|
|Somerset, Lord G.||TELLERS.|
|Spry, S. T.||Chandos, Marquess of|
|Sullivan, R.||Knatchbull, Sir E.|
|Sinclair, G.||PAIRED OFF.|
|Sheil, R. L.||Denison, W. J.|
|Scott, J. W.||Ferguson, Capt.|
|Shawe, R. N.||Tynte, Col.|
§ On the question being again put, that the Speaker do leave the Chair.