§ Sir William Ingilby
rose for the purpose of bringing forward a question of vast importance, in doing which last year, he had the satisfaction of receiving the support of a majority of the House. He now came to the subject a little better prepared than he had been on that occasion, in consequence of the reply then made to him by the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that it was an improper mode of proceeding for any Gentleman to come down to that House altogether unprepared to propose something as a substitute to meet the deficiency of 4,000,000l. in the revenue, which would be created by the repeal of the Malt-tax. He (Sir William Ingilby) therefore, on the present occasion, stood there in a better character, and, for a little while, he would supersede the noble Lord, and take upon himself the office of Chancellor of the Exchechequer. He was quite aware of the difficulty that there was in saying, how far it might be practicable to procure so large a sum of money for the Exchequer, but, he begged to observe to his hon. friend, the member for Cricklade, that so far from pursuing this Motion for the purpose of embarrassing his Majesty's Government, he would tell him, that he took as 877 much pains to support the present Administration as any man in the country, He, therefore, disclaimed any motive of hostility to the Government; his object was to support it, and to render it the best assistance in his power, by finding: the funds to supply the sum of money required to carry into effect the repeal of the Malt-tax. It might, perhaps, appear singular to many hon. Gentlemen who were more accustomed to look at the finances of the country than he was, that he should set himself up as a financier; but he would produce a budget, and he hoped that it would give satisfaction, if not to the noble Lord, to the country. To the country he hoped it would give greater satisfaction than any other budget which had been brought forward for the last seven years. He need not, perhaps, repeat the arguments made use of in the course of last Session, and to the hundred arguments urged in favour of the repeal of the Malt-tax: nor would he refer to the desolation and misery which reigned throughout the country, from the accumulation of beer-houses, those abominable sources of incendiarism and acts of violence. Who had not heard of the evils of the "Tidley Wink," as the game played at these houses was called? He did not mean to deny, indeed, that there were some decent respectable beer-houses to be found; but where there was one house of a decent description, there were 50 or 100 to be found of a contrary sort? Now, his object was, to get rid of the Malt-tax, and, by so doing, get rid of these houses. In doing this, he should also enable his countrymen to drink a wholesome beverage, which would induce them to leave off dram-drinking; thus rendering a great service to the noble Lord and the country at large, which would be highly delighted in getting rid of this most odious tax. He could not understand the argument, that because a tax was there, it was, therefore, to last till the day of judgment. The noble Lord said last year, that he might take the question into consideration, if any hon. Member could devise a reasonable mode of supplying the deficit which must be caused by the repeal of this odious tax. He would not only do that for the noble Lord—he would not only enable the noble Lord to take off the Malt-tax, but he would place him on the high road to take off more taxes than the House and Window-duty only. He was glad to see that hon. Gentlemen 878 opposite were in such good humour, because it showed that some good was likely to come from this Motion. He was sorry that the hon. and gallant officer, the member for Westminster (Colonel Evans) had, on a former occasion, left the House, and thus left in his hands the task of relieving the people of Westminster from the Window-tax. He thought that the hon. and gallant Colonel would have done better to have remained at his post when his Motion for the repeal of the Window-tax was to come on, than to leave him, a rural man, to fight the battle of the towns' people. The towns were still, he supposed, to be arrayed against the landed interest. This system would not hold good with him, for he meant to stand up against taxation for his brothers of towns as well as of the country; and if a contrary policy were adopted, he thought it would be pursued with a view to array the ville against the village. When he should have the honour to bring forward his budget, he should not only propose the reduction of the Malt-tax, but, taking the precedence of all the metropolitan Members, he would give them, of his own gracious accord, the remission of the House and Window-tax, and all that he would do without people coming to his house in Berkeley-square, and without any outcry whatever. His Majesty's Speech at the opening of the Session referred to agricultural distress, and he thought that part of it deserved their attention. He hoped the noble Lord would give full consideration to his Majesty's Speech by paying attention to that portion of it which alluded to the state of the agricultural interest. [Here Sir Robert Peel entered the House.] He was happy to see the right hon. Baronet, the member for Tarn worth, enter the House, upon whose powerful aid and assistance he looked to earnestly—[Mr. Stanley; "Hear, hear"]. He did not understand, perhaps, what parliamentary tactics required, and he did not know what the cheer of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Stanley) meant. If the right hon. Gentleman supposed that he—an ancient Whig, not of many days, but of many years standing—had joined gratuitously the power of his eloquence to—if the right hon. Gentleman supposed that he sought to bring in his eloquence to the aid of an ancient Tory camp, that right hon. Gentleman was greatly mistaken. He 879 did not acknowledge any distinct party—he came down there to do his duty at all hazards; he had taken this question up with a view to relieve the agricultural and the commercial interests, and not to put a sixpence into his own pocket, or those of the squirearchy; nor did he believe that the reduction or remission of the Malt-duty would have the effect of increasing rents. The reduction of the Malt-duty would, no doubt, place barley on another footing, because there would be a better market for it. But for what purpose was it he asked for the remission of the duty on malt? Why it was to relieve the middling and the lower classes of society, and it was for their relief that he was induced again to bring forward a Motion to repeal this tax. Hon. Gentlemen were not aware, perhaps, that in many parts of the country the poor and feeble were reduced to one of two grievous alternatives. The one was that which hon. Gentlemen would not like—namely, to drink water; the other was worse, because it was more unwholesome—namely, to drink gin. Gin was a beverage in every way prejudicial, but unfortunately it was at that pleasing price that for half-a-crown a man might swim in it. No gin or other ardent spirit could be wholesome for the community at large, and he thought that in his opinion the noble Lord would agree with him. Now he wanted, by the remission of this tax, to secure to the cottager such a wholesome beverage as he had one-and-twenty years ago. By the evidence given before the Committee of 1821, it appeared that in a parish, the property of Mr. Elmore, there was not a man who had not a barrel of ale in his house. Now he would ask how many men now had a barrel of ale? Not one, either in the place referred to, or in any part of the country he believed. The consequence was that the men now went to the Tom and Jerry shops, or the "tidley wink," or alehouses, to get cheap gin. Having said thus much on the necessity of taking off the duty on malt, he thought he could not do better than produce his budget, which would, perhaps, astonish the noble Lord and the House; but he had arranged it after full thought, and after discovering taxes which would be more than adequate to meet the deficiency caused by the remission of the Malt-tax. He had done this in consequence of the speech of the right hon. Baronet, who, on 880 the former occasion, had said that he did not understand how hon. Gentlemen could propose to take off a tax without suggesting the means to replace its amount. He did not mean to pretend to quote the words of the right hon. Baronet, but he believed that his declaration was tantamount to this; and upon that ground he had understood the right hon. Gentleman opposed his Motion. He would now not further waste the time of the House, but would at once produce his budget. He headed his budget, for the purposes of the evening, the budget of "the Knight of Lindsey, promoted to the office pro tem. of Chancellor of the Exchequer." In the budget which he was about to submit to the House every thing was laid as low as possible. Let the House increase the calculations as they liked for many of the items were able to bear this. The tax on malt in the United Kingdom for the year 1832 yielded 4,845,000l. odd, the duty on malt being 2s. 7d. per bushel. He would here state that the repeal of this tax would go far to relieve the cottagers. The objection to the repeal of this tax was, that the public burthens would not bear its abolition. Now how was this to be remedied? This was the mighty puzzle which his Majesty's Government had been in for some time; because if they had had any intention to relieve the country from this excessive and tremendous burthen upon the working classes they would have taken the matter into their serious consideration, and they would have come down to that House with a liberal measure of reduction; and this reduction could be made. The first article he took then was the Beer-duty, for they must partly re-enact the former Beer Bill. It certainly was an odious thing for a man placed in the situation of the noble Lord—it was an odious thing for a Chancellor of the Exchequer to come down and tax his Majesty's lieges; and it was particularly so to propose a tax upon a man who had been relieved from a tax. The brewers had been relieved from the Beer-duty; but then he meant to give them good malt for nothing; they had none of the abominations of excisemen; they had no inquisitorial visits to submit to; and therefore they could bear a tax upon each barrel of beer of thirty-six gallons. So far he must have a partial re-enactment of the Beer Bill—[cries of "Oh! oh!"] He would beg hon. Gentlemen who cried 881 "Oh!" whether they were brewers or not, to hear the case out. He was quite aware that, upon the repeal of the Malt-tax, the brewer could afford to be taxed. He only proposed to take a small tax of 6s. per barrel of thirty-six gallons. Granting the repeal of the Malt-duty, the duty on beer might be 12s. per barrel easily; but he wished to place the tax as low as possible, and not to levy more money on the people than was really necessary to supply the coffers of the Treasury, therefore, he proposed 6s. upon each barrel of thirty-six gallons. This would produce a sum of 1,500,000l. The second article which he had to produce from his budget was a new duty on foreign wines. He took, in the first instance, the more costly wines—wines of a more generous description, such as were used by members of Parliament, and others in their station of life. By doing so, he should be enabled to let the middling and more humble classes have the wines which they drank at a fair and moderate price. It had long been a remark amongst the people, that the Members of that House, while they freely assented to tax the people, watched with a jealous eye any measure which made an attack upon their own pockets. He had no objection, however, to pay a tax on his champagne or claret, and, therefore, in imposing a duty on these wines, he taxed himself. His plan, then, was to impose a tax upon all foreign wines, except Cape. He was thus minute upon this part of the subject, because it was quite necessary that his budget should not only be heard, but clearly understood by hon. Members. He excepted Cape, then, but upon the other foreign wines he would rise in exact proportion. Upon the Portuguese and Spanish wines, which were most generally used by the middling classes, and those of a more humble class who could afford to drink wine, he would impose but a small additional duty. But, upon French, Rhenish, and the nobler wines used by the wealthier classes, he would impose a heavy duty. Gentlemen might look out, for he was going to swim them up at once from 5s. 6d. to 15s. per gallon. By agreeing to this tax it would be only courteous on their parts to show the people that they could tax themselves a little, in order to allow the middling classes to have their port and other such wines cheaper. By the adoption of this tax, too, the House would nobly repel the 882 charge of being jealous of any impost which affected themselves. He calculated that the produce of this tax would amount to 273,000l. There was another tax which he meant to propose, which he thought worthy of the most serious attention of the House and the country; it was a tax, too, which it was incumbent upon every lover of order and good government to support. It was a tax upon gin—called, par excellence, gin royal, or gin imperial. Now, he would tax, not only this gin, but the gin palaces. He would have been inclined to go pretty high in his taxation upon this article, were it not that he feared the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he resumed his office, would be pointing out to him the injury to the distillers as well as to the revenue, by giving encouragement to illicit distillation on the one hand, and smuggling on the other. This it was that prevented him from proposing from 5s. to 7s. addition per gallon. He must, therefore, in visiting these gin temples, content himself with adding one-half per gallon to the present duty. He was not sure how much this would make according to his figures, as he had no specific account; but he calculated it in round numbers at the incredible sum of 2,500,000l. According to the best accounts he had received of the consumption of gin, the tax certainly would amount to this within an odd 50,000l. or perhaps 100,000l. This increase of tax, while it would not raise the price sufficiently high to encourage the private distiller or the smuggler, would be efficient in its produce, and might be looked upon as the happy medium by which the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he resumed office, would be able to afford that relief which he was so anxious to extend to a suffering people, and at the same time give up the Malt-tax, which was a still more oppressive imposition upon the agricultural interests, who were already borne down by distress. He had now to propose another, which was quite novel in its nature, and which might, in some measure, excite the risible faculties of the House. Well, never mind that, let Ministers hearken to what he was about to say, and profit by the regulations he was about to adopt in his budget. Every hon. Member who heard him, must be aware of the enormous profligacy and wickedness which existed in London. Now he was not going to take, 883 walks through London, to give an account of the vice and wickedness which was to be found in every hole and corner. He would for the present content himself with what took place in the neighbourhood of the Athenæum, He was going to pronounce a fearful word—he scarcely knew how to trust himself with it—he was going to let fly at the Hells of London! He did not know why it was, that, in this country, after the law had been found insufficient to put those hellish establishments—those sinks of indecency—down, we should not be enabled to render them a source of revenue to the country. He knew not why or how it was, that a pair of the greatest scoundrels in Europe should be allowed to come down with impunity, night after night, and, with masked faces, pretend to play for thousands of pounds, and this for the sole purpose of entrapping young men from Cambridge or Oxford, or of seducing apprentices or clerks to rob their masters. He knew not how, he repeated, it was that these vagabonds should be allowed to act thus, without paying in the shape of a tax, the penalty of their iniquity. A pair of villains had been openly doing this; and if the law, as it existed, could not reach them, let it get at them in the shape of taxation. This was a matter worthy of the serious attention of the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer. He had a great mind to be tenacious upon this point, but wished to act courteously to the ex-Chancellor. Let, however, one of two things be done—let them close their houses, or let them pay the tax. At present the west-end of the town was infested with these dens of thieves—he believed there was a notorious one next door to the house of the Bishop of London. Now, upon each vagabond keeping one of these hells, he would impose a tax of 1,000l. per annum. He had seldom or never gone into one of them; but perhaps it was his duty to have done so previously to the introduction of his budget, in order to ascertain the extent of the wickedness going on. Or he might have taken another course, and sought information from the police; but he believed the police received very little information on the subject, except, perhaps, where a throat was cut, or some other such trifling accident took place. He would put these vagabond hell-keepers down at fifty, which, at 1,000l. each, would make 50,000l. 884 He now came to those gentlemen (for he supposed he must call them gentlemen) the Bonds, the Rookes, and so on, who attended such places—why should not such rascals take out licenses, in the same manner as gentlemen did when going a shooting? Thus a vagabond of the worst character might take out a license to go to hell.
§ Sir Robert Inglis
rose to order. He put it to the hon. Baronet whether it was becoming to indulge in such a strain?
§ Sir William Ingilby
said, he was quite aware that there were certain expressions which must not be mentioned to "ears polite." He certainly had not asked the hon. Baronet to take out a license for one of these places, but as he meant to tax them, he must be at liberty to allude to them. Taking the number of gentlemen, tradesmen, blacklegs, &c, who frequented these places at 5,000, and charging 10l. for each certificate, the tax would produce 50,000l. This was, however, a mere outline. There were many details and regulations into which he could not at present enter. For instance, he would impose a heavy penalty where gambling was found to take place in private houses; but this was matter for subsequent consideration. As far as he had gone with his budget, he hoped the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer was satisfied with his progress of taxation, of which, however, he had as yet but a slight and indistinct glimpse. He had now to propose a tax which he considered a fair and equitable one, but which would beat the invention even of the notorious William Pitt. The hon. representative for Westminster, and the hon. Members who represented the metropolitan boroughs, need no longer fear how they were to give their votes respecting the disposal of the 1,200,000l.; it mattered little whether they consented to give it to the landed, or to the repeal of the" House-duty. He would not trouble his hon. friend, the member for Middlesex, on the present occasion, much as he valued his calculating powers, because, perhaps, that hon. Member would be talking of some 10,000,000l. or 12,000,000l. He wanted no such sums; he would provide enough without them, by which the noble Lord would be enabled to extend that relief which the agriculturists and the other interests of the country required; for they might make up their minds to this, that, to that remedy they must come 885 at last, and he, for one, was ready to meet it. His other items had excited the risible faculties of some hon. Members; but what would they say, or feel, when they heard the monstrum horrendum which he was now about to produce? Hon. Members need not any longer fear that he was going to say anything wicked—all that was gone by; and he now came to a source of revenue different from that to be raised in the neighbourhood of the Athenaeum. The noble Lord, his predecessor in office, had placed a small tax upon titles or distinctions. Thus, if a man were a traveller, he was taxed—if he were a shopman or clerk, or other servant, he was taxed. Why not also impose a tax upon Dukes, Marquesses, Earls, Viscounts, Barons, Baronets, Knights?—he would not go below Knights—on the whole he would make it an ad valorem duty. Now, he would show them how this tax could be rendered productive, without being at all oppressive. He would not include ladies of title, no matter whether by birth, right, or courtesy, or even widows, in this tax. The tax upon titled personages he would make a small one—nay, he would go further, and provide that any titled personage who objected to the payment of the tax, might get rid of it, upon a condition, namely, that he should give up his title—that he should solemnly renounce it in the Gazette. So that if a Duke objected to the tax, he had only to give up his title for once and all, by a public act of relinquishment inserted in the Gazette, and thus he would save himself some fifty or one hundred pounds a-year. Let it not be supposed that he (Sir William Ingilby) was a disinterested person on the occasion. If the tax were carried, he must pay too. Though he confessed that it would be a question with him, whether he would continue to keep a handle to his name, or go at once into the Gazette. At present he only valued a ducal title at 50l, a-year, although the Duke ought to pay 100l.; a Marquess he valued at 30l.; and so on, on a graduated scale. On looking over his list, he found that this would produce a great sum to the revenue. There might be some grave objections raised to this mode of taxation, but he hoped not, at a period like the present, when they were about to extend a great boon to the people, by relieving them from taxation. The amount of the tax on titles, he estimated at 120,000l.! Titles, if they were not so 886 common as at Vienna, were still quite common enough to render them available in a Government budget. Another item which he proposed, was, the re-enactment of the leather-tax, for he found that no advantage had been derived to the people either in town or country from its removal. This amount he calculated at 150,000l. He found that, thus far, his budget stood as follows:—
Thus the House would see that, instead of a deficiency of 74,000l., he had a surplus of 45,000l. in his pocket. He would now move to another part of the metropolis, and visit a certain quarter, where he perhaps might be told that, whatever pains he might have taken to do good to the agriculturists, they did not want him there. But he contended that the measures he had in view would be equally beneficial to the metropolis and to agriculture. The hon. member for Westminster might have deserted his Motion with safety, for he (Sir William Ingilby) 887 had in his Budget that which would enable the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he resumed office, to dispose of the 1,200,000l. in reduction of the House and Window-tax if he pleased. And what was it he was going to do? He had not yet touched upon the Civil and Military Establishments—he had not come to them. He meant not to touch public credit, neither would he interfere with the banker's shop. He begged the attention of the right hon. member for Tamworth, who was well skilled in calculation, to what he was going to say. He was now going to another house of play, and he would tax the transfer of accounts. He would tax the transactions between the bull and the bear; and would that, he asked, affect public credit? He would say, certainly not. He hoped to receive an answer to this question by and by. Was it likely that such a tax would operate so as to frighten the speculator, the dealer in the funds, from the Exchange? [An hon. Member: "Oh, but you can't get at those accounts!"] Could he not? He would let them see, by and by, that he could, and that by doing so, he would be enabled to remove the House and Window-tax, as well as the Malt-tax. But hon. Members might ask how was this to be done? He would, in his turn, ask how everything else was done? Nothing more easy when once they set properly about it. In the first place he would have sworn brokers, who, upon inquiry, would be compelled to give the necessary information on the subject, and this could not be called in any way a tax upon, or an interference with, public credit; it was only a fair and equitable mode of providing for the reductions called for, and nothing was more easy to be done. He would not carry on his Budget much further. He was not quite satisfied as to his knowledge on the subject of reciprocity dealing, or he would ask why it was that French shoes and French gloves were not taxed upon being imported into this country. He only threw this out as a matter for inquiry. He believed he had now nearly discharged the duties of his newly-acquired office, and, without any hesitation or prevarication, he begged to call upon the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to resume it, and he trusted that he might live long to enjoy it in health and happiness for the benefit of the country at large. For himself he would say, that he 888 resigned his new honours with a much better grace than some hon. Gentlemen who left office. The hon. Baronet concluded by moving, "That this House do resolve itself into a Committee of the whole House, with a view to taking into consideration the propriety of partially or totally repealing the duty on Malt."
£ 1. An additional duty of 2s. 9d. a gallon on Portugal, Madeira, and Spanish wines, would leave, according to the Returns referred to, and after allowing for drawback 415,000 2. An advanced duty of 9s. 6d. per gallon, that is from 5s. 6d. to 15s. on French, Rhenish, Canary, and Sicilian wines 237,000 3. An additional duty of 2s. 6l. per gallon on all ardent British spirits; leaving the duty 9s. 6d. per gallon for England, and 5s. 10d. per gallon for Ireland and Scotland, instead of 7s. and 3s. 4d., as it is at present 2,500,000 4. Partial re-enactment of the Beertax, of 6s. instead of 9s. 4d. the barrel of thirty-six gallons, after allowing a strong drawback for less consumption in beer-shops and public-houses, in consequence of the consumption of home-brewed beer over a poor man's fireside 1,500,000 5. Suppose the number of hells at fifty in the metropolis, at 1,000l. each 50,000 Take the number of frequenters, including gentlemen, tradesmen, and blacklegs, at 5,000, the certificates, at 10l. each, would be 50,000 6. To re-enact the Leather-tax, as its partial repeal was scarcely a public benefit 150,000 £4,902,000 Exact amount of Malt-tax, for year ending 10th October, 1832, was 4,976,694 Produce of annexed scale 4,902,000 Difference 74,694 Estimate of tax on titles 120,000 Surplus £45,306
The Marquess of Chandos
said, he most willingly seconded the Motion as far as it went, but he had nothing to do with the humorous observations introduced by the hon. Baronet. When the Motion was made last year on this subject, and carried, the Chancellor of the Exchequer objected to it that the Budget for the year had, at that time, been made up and passed, but this year no such objection could be made. He was most anxious to press this Motion upon the attention of the House with a view to its being carried. He was well acquainted with the distresses of the agriculturists, and it was not the first time he had had occasion to call the attention of the House to them. It was, at one time, his hope that a measure of relief, such as that now contemplated, would have emanated from Ministers; but as, unfortunately, that was not the case, he was determined to go along with his constituents in seeking relief from the burthens under which they laboured. The question for the consideration of the House was not how much or how little of this was to be taken off, but merely for a Committee of Inquiry to see if any, and what part of it could be removed with propriety. Was there any hon. Member in that House who could put his hand to his heart and say, that such an inquiry ought not to take place? Were they prepared to send Members back to their constituents to tell them that nothing was to be done for them—that even an inquiry into their distresses had been refused? The distress which existed amongst the agriculturists was not stationary—it was progressing fast; new cases of suffering were occurring daily, which, he feared, would soon create a spirit of discontent and disorganization, which it would in a short time be difficult to check. After the kindness he had experienced from the House on a former evening, when speaking on this subject, it was not his intention to take up much of their time, but he could not resist the opportunity of calling upon them to go along with the tide of petitions which had flown in from the agriculturists, 889 and allow this inquiry. Should the result be such as he hoped it might, he trusted the noble Lord opposite would be enabled to meet any deficiency which might arise by availing himself of other resources. In the name of the agriculturists he implored the House not to turn a deaf ear to their prayer.
§ Mr. Warburton
said, that he should not have risen then had he seen the slightest disposition on the part of the noble Lord (Lord Althorp) to address the House. If the object of the hon. Baronet's Motion had been to abolish any monopoly, or to repeal any tax which operated injuriously towards the industrious classes of the community, it would have received his most willing support; but he could only regard the hon. Baronet's proposition as an attempt on the part of the agricultural interest to put their hands into the pockets of the people. [Cries of" No."] It appeared to him that the agricultural interest wished to raise a revenue from the other interests in the state, in order to place that revenue in their own pockets. ["No, no."] He believed the substance of the hon. Baronet's comical budget was a proposal to repeal the Malt-tax, and reimpose on the people the Beer-tax. The hon. Baronet had also suggested the expediency of imposing additional duties on spirits and wine, and the hon. Baronet went so far that he might easily have been mistaken for a member of the Temperance Society, had he not concluded by proposing the repeal of the Malt-tax. He had certainly no objection to lower the price of beer to agricultural labourers, notwithstanding that the Magistrates and clergymen who had given evidence before the Beer Committee last Session, attributed all the crimes committed in the country to the low price of beer, in conjunction with the establishment of beer-shops; but he was opposed to the hon. Baronet's plan, because it was essentially a proposition to impose a tax on the consumers of beer in towns who were too poor to brew for themselves, in order that the growers of barley might place the produce in their own pockets. He trusted, therefore, that the Representatives of towns would protect the interest of the poorer classes of their constituents by refusing to give their sanction to the proposed partial system of taxation. The repeal of the Malt-tax would not have any tendency, in his opinion, to reduce the price of beer or malt to 890 any considerable extent, unless that measure was accompanied by the removal of the duties on the importation of foreign barley. The simple repeal of the Malt-tax would only benefit the occupiers of barley-growing districts; and as he did not see the expediency of conferring exclusive advantages on any one separate interest in the State, he should vote against the Motion.
§ Mr. Benett
denied that the removal of the Malt-duty would raise the price of beer to the consumers in towns, and said that the interests, not of the lower classes of the people, but of the great brewers alone, were considered in the continuance of that tax. The House had been told that the landed interest wanted to obtain the repeal of the Malt-tax in order to put the money in their own pockets. Now, he was ready to admit that the landed interest would obtain some relief by the removal of the duty, and in their present distressed condition they were entitled to relief; but the benefit would not be exclusively theirs, for it would be shared equally between the consumer and the producer. If the landowners took his advice, they would adopt every measure having a tendency to lower prices. Many years back they had neglected to prepare for a return to a metallic currency, and they had suffered severely for their want of prudence. Let them not betray a similar want of foresight with regard to the Corn-laws. Persevering endeavours would be made to obtain the repeal of those laws, and that those endeavours would be successful in the end he could not but believe. Under these circumstances, it was the interest of the landowners to prepare for the evil day, by lowering the price of the articles which they produced, and they could only effect this object by reducing the cost of cultivation. He considered it to be the interest of the landowners to repeal every tax affecting the production of the articles of life, and for this reason he was an advocate for a Property-tax, which pressed upon the rich, and not upon the poor. He recollected that when a Property-tax existed in this country it was run down by the clamour of itinerant orators, who possessed no property whatever. Since that period the people had become more enlightened, and a Property-tax would, he had no doubt, be now not unpopular in the country. He certainly thought 891 that every Gentleman, before he voted in favour of the hon. Baronet's Motion, ought to be prepared with a substitute to supply the deficiency in the revenue which the repeal of the Malt-duty would create, for unless that deficiency was supplied, the national faith, the maintenance of which ought to be the first care of Parliament, could not be preserved. He was prepared with a substitute in the shape of a Property-tax, and he, therefore, considered himself at liberty to vote in favour of the hon. Baronet's Motion.
said, he now rose principally for the purpose of explaining how it happened that he was not in his place on Tuesday evening, to bring forward his Motion for a repeal of the duty on windows. The cause was this—a deputation from Marylebone had waited on him in the course of that day, requesting him not to bring it forward. The Central Committee of Westminster made a similar request; a large public meeting, at which at least 1,000 persons were present, made a similar request—all objecting to that tax, but yet all agreeing that if the Chancellor of the Exchequer could not afford it now, he might be prepared for it in the course of the ensuing year. These meetings were thankful for the remission of 1,200,000l., as promised by the Chancellor of the Exchequer; they were thankful for the promised repeal of the odious and partial House-duty—and owing to these circumstances, and not from any consultation with the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he had not brought forward his Motion. He might at all events be now permitted to say why he should vote against the proposed Motion. He thought that the agricultural interest had the east claim fora reduction of taxes, and that five-sixths of the Members of the House were its professed advocates. Too much caution, therefore, could not be used in watching so powerful a body. The remission of the Property-tax alone gave a benefit of many millions to the agricultural interest.
§ Colonel Davies
said, there was no distinction of interests engaged in this question. He looked upon it as one involving the moral interests of the people, and as such, worthy of the best attention of that House. The beer-shops were established by the late Ministers, who also reduced the duty upon ardent spirits; and the result was, that the people were in as 892 great a state of demoralisation, as in the bad times of Sir R. Walpole. He believed it would be unavailable to put a tax upon spirits; but his object was to give the people a taste of homely comforts, and thereby save their characters. The quantity of spirits consumed had increased to an extraordinary extent throughout the United Kingdom since the reduction of the duty on spirits from 11s. 8d. to 7s. In England, the increase was from 3,400,000 to 7,000,000, according to the last return; in Scotland, from 2,000,000 to 5,000,000 gallons; and, in Ireland, from 2,000,000 to 9,000,000 gallons. If any remission were to take place in the Malt-tax, it should be altogether remitted; but even the remission of 2s. 6d. a bushel, would afford considerable relief to the agricultural interest. He was the Representative of a large constituency, of a large manufacturing and commercial community; and he could say for himself, and, he believed, for his constituents, that no injury could arise to them from acceding to the present Motion. If the duty upon malt were taken off, the beer would be stronger and better than it was at present, and the towns would get the benefit of it. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had 500,000l. surplus. He would call it 300,000l.; and he would venture to add, that such diminutions might be made in the expenses of the army and colonies, as would supply the amount of the Malt-tax. Believing that, he had no hesitation, whatever, in supporting the Motion; and, though the repeal of the tax might tend to the advantage of the barley lands, he could not say, that the agriculturists were not entitled to any relief which that would give them.
§ Mr. Gisborne
was of opinion, that this Motion was not only singular in itself, but most singularly supported. Indeed, it appeared as if the hon. Baronet and his Motion were both to be thrown overboard together. As the Motion originally stood, it was for the total repeal of the Malt-tax; but as it was now shaped, it was merely for inquiry in a Committee up stairs—[" No, no, in a Committee of the whole House"]. Well, be it so, but his mistake was not unreasonable after the change which had been made in the terms of the Motion. He could not vote for this Motion—not because he did not know and feel for the sufferings of the agricultural interest, but because he thought, that the repeal of the 893 Malt-tax would not answer the expected purpose. Such relief as its repeal would give, would go into the pockets of the agriculturist—would benefit the barley-growers, but would in no degree confer any benefit upon the poorer consumers of beer. There was at present a redundant supply of all sorts of labour in the market, and the only means of giving relief would be, by taking off taxes, and thereby giving greater employment to the people. The repeal of the Malt-duty would do no general good; and he verily believed, that distress would not be relieved, till "the old owners and occupiers of the soil were worn out." He meant, in saying this, to speak of those persons who "were tied down by old engagements;" those persons who contracted to pay two bushels, and were now paying at the rate of five; and he could assure the House, that the wearing-out system was now very rapidly on the advance. He knew a tract of land, the forest of Needwood, in the county of Stafford, comprising 10,000 acres, upon which there was not a single occupier who had been there twenty years ago. This he spoke of from his own knowledge—in fact, they were altogether annihilated, or swept away to gaols or to lunatic asylums. "Their places knew them no more;" they borrowed upon paper-money—upon unstandard-money, which, by a vote of this House, was voted to be equal to standard-money. The people then confided in this House, and this confidence was their ruin. He would not participate in the act of 1819, for he considered it one of the greatest acts of fraud, as well as of cruelty, that was ever inflicted upon civilised man. He was not much in the habit of trespassing upon the attention of the House, and on the present occasion he was strictly confining himself to the Motion of the hon. Baronet, and only stating why he could not give his support to the Motion. He admitted the distress of the agriculturists, and that this Motion would give them relief; but he thought that that relief would be extremely small unless the whole of the Malt-tax were taken off. He did not think this an occasion upon which we could go into an inquiry of the general fiscal system of the country. He did not think, that this Motion was likely to produce the benefits which the hon. Baronet intended, and for this reason he could not give it his support.
could not abstain from alluding to the nature of the agricultural relief which had been suggested by the hon. Gentleman who had preceded him. The hon. Member had spoken as if he proposed to sweep away all the old occupiers of land. Till this event took place—till all the old occupiers of land had been Swept away—he had predicted that there would be no relief afforded to agriculture. He (Colonel Wood) certainly could not acquiesce in this opinion, which did not comprehend the principles calculated to furnish agricultural relief. The total Repeal of the Malt-tax was practically impossible, for it would be hopeless to raise in its place a tantamount income. He knew of nothing so likely to remedy the difficulties under which the agriculturists were now suffering as a partial repeal of the tax. If the House agreed to repeal half the Malt-tax, and impose a duty of 5s. a barrel on beer, those Gentlemen who advocated the cause of the consumer might rely, it would not increase the price of beer one halfpenny. If this 5s. were imposed upon beer, and a correspondent 5s. deducted from the Malt-tax, it would be attended with an advantage to the moral interests of society, in addition to that of the agricultural interests, in having a tendency to suppress those beer-shops in the bye paths which were calculated to exercise a deteriorating influence on the morals of the people. In the opinion which had been expressed that an advance in the price of barley, which this Motion, if carried into effect, was intended to produce, would operate to the disadvantage of the labouring classes of the community, he could not agree. Wheat was the customary food of the people of England; and he should be sorry to see them reduced to the necessity of using any other bread I than what was made from that sort of grain. But this was barley, the price of which he wished to raise, and it was certain that an advance of two or three shillings per quarter upon it, which would probably be effected by the method he had proposed, would effect much relief to the agriculturist. This would be more especially the case in the barley districts; and those districts were great; and in truth it would hardly be confined to them alone, for there were few districts in which barley was not more or less grown. Under the existing prices, bad samples were unsaleable; but these would be rendered 895 saleable by any means which could be devised to advance the prices. Any measure, therefore, calculated to elevate the prices of barley was certainly of the utmost importance to the general interests of agriculture, and, guided by this principle, he must vote for the Repeal of the Malt-tax.
§ Sir Robert Peel
had come down under the impression that the proposition to be made was for a total repeal of the Malt-tax; and he must say, there was considerable inconvenience, a notice having been given, that a specific proposal was to be made, in any hon. Member coming forward, and, in an instant, without any previous intimation of the change, introducing great and essential alterations in the purport and design of the original Motion. At the same time, he was not sure that the nature of the proposition had been in the present case substantially altered; because the hon. Baronet who introduced it stated his conviction, that little, if any relief, could be derived from a partial repeal of the Malt-duty; and his proposal, in fact, was to abolish the whole, promising to supply the deficiency of revenue that might result from its total abolition by substituting certain other taxes, which the hon. Baronet had detailed with some facetiousness. He did not apprehend, that the proposal of the hon. Baronet for a Committee, was with the view of maturely considering the subject, and calmly investigating how the interests of agriculture would be influenced by a partial, or total repeal of the Malt-tax. He feared, that on going into the Committee, a specific and sweeping proposition would at once be submitted to it for the repeal of the whole tax, and that the hon. Baronet had therefore only altered the forms of his Motion. With respect to the total repeal of the Malt-duty, he still adhered to the opinion he had stated in the last Session. It was impossible to decide on such a proposition without looking at the state of the revenue; although he did not consider it necessary to refer to it in detail, as every Gentleman must bear in mind the statement of the noble Lord (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) a few nights before. His opinion, taking into consideration the present state of the revenue of the country, was, that the House could not consent to such an extensive reduction of taxation as would be implied in the total repeal of the Malt-tax. 896 The noble Lord, in his financial statement, had calculated, that the entire surplus of revenue during the present year would be 2,600,000l., of which 800,000l. was to be reserved, in order to defray the interest of the 20,000,000l. voted to the West-India proprietors, and for which the national honour was pledged. There remained, therefore, a sum of 1,800,000l.; and as the noble Lord proposed giving relief by the reduction of taxation to the amount of 1,200,000l. the entire surplus would be only 600,000l., which he for one, taking into consideration the state of the country, the extent of its revenue, and the possibly increased demands which might be made on it—did not think constituted too large a sum to leave as a margin, as it was popularly called, to meet contingencies. He thought, however, that the noble Lord had greatly overrated the surplus on which he calculated. There was 1,500,000l. estimated to be derived from a difference between the expenditure and revenue of last year; there was 500,000l. to be derived from savings in the Estimates; and 600,000l. calculated as the increase of the duty on tea. He had stated on a former occasion, and subsequent reflection had more firmly convinced him, that the noble Lord had no right to calculate on such an increase arising to the revenue from an alteration in the duty on tea. The noble Lord seemed perfectly satisfied, that he should be able to dispose of 36,000,000 lbs. of tea a year; and it would, of course, be great presumption in him to utter any counter-prediction to that of the noble Lord; but he would venture to say, that the noble Lord would not realize 600,000l. from the change in the system, as the noble Lord calculated. The noble Lord, in his opinion, had made a great mistake; the great probability was, that he would not be able to realize nearly one-half of what he had stated. The noble Lord was not entitled to promote the sale of tea by reducing the upset prices; and if they were continued, 36,000,000 lbs. could never be disposed of; and, in the most favourable state of matters, it was very doubtful more than doubtful, whether 600,000l. would be realized of increased revenue. There was to be a graduated scale of duties according to the qualities of the tea imported; had the noble Lord taken into consideration that it would be necessary on that account materially to 897 increase the number of Excise Officers, the expense of which would no doubt deduct from the income which would be derived from the new scale of duties? Besides, another deduction should be made on account of the inevitable increase which would take place of smuggling. Upon the whole, he did not think that the result would justify the calculation of the noble Lord, and therefore the state of the revenue, and the probable vicissitudes to which it might be subjected, would not warrant the House in repealing the Malttax, and, in his opinion, the agricultural interest would have a much better chance of obtaining relief by maintaining public credit, than by pressing for such a reduction of the revenue as would endanger it. So far as personal motives could weigh with any man, it must be with him a primary object to protect the agricultural interest; but looking at the present price of the funds, considering the chance there was that an early and legitimate reduction of the public burthens would take place by diminishing the interest on those funds, his fixed and deliberate opinion was, that public credit should not be endangered or lessened by any rash and precipitate attempt to obtain the repeal of the tax in question. He had been astonished to hear no reference made by the noble Lord (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) to the state of the four per cents in his financial statement. The hon. Baronet who introduced the Motion, had reminded him of an observation he had made, that those who proposed a measure by which any considerable diminution of the revenue would be occasioned, were bound to provide a feasible substitute; and the hon. Baronet said, that he, of course, came prepared with a substitute. He had not 'the least objection to consider the propriety of adopting the proposition of laying an increased tax on gin; there was nothing very novel in that; he was, in fact, disposed to lay as heavy a duty on that; noxious fluid as could possibly be collected from it, consistently with the interests of the fair trader, and the maintenance of the present amount of the public revenue. But if, by laying on an enormous tax on gin, an indirect advantage was given to illicit distillation, it was very difficult to see in what way the revenue would be increased, or the cause of public morality improved, by the change. Certainly, the interests of the industrious 898 classes of society ought to be considered; and if it could be shown that any increase of taxation on a luxury like foreign wine would not diminish its consumption, and increase the public revenue, it would be a very convenient argument in favour of the present motion; but when the hon. Baronet had a little more experience in his office of Chancellor of the Exchequer, he would find, that whatever it might be in arithmetic, two and two did not in matters of revenue always make four. The hon. Baronet had also talked of imposing a tax on a certain class of mountebanks, and, perhaps, it might be possible to find out a worse tax. Certainly, if it would be an ad valorem tax, after listening to the speech of the hon. Baronet, he should be strongly inclined to support it. He must say, that if the hon. Baronet really meant to support the agricultural interest, he had treated the subject with a degree of ridicule which, considering the importance of it, and the distressed condition of that part of the community, was unwise and unseemly. The hon. member for Wiltshire (Mr. Bennet) had stated, that he would support the Motion, because, although he did not approve of the substitutes proposed by the hon. Baronet, yet he was prepared to find a substitute for the diminished revenue in a Property-tax. If he could concur in that view—if he could bring himself to think it would be desirable or expedient in the present state of the country to impose such a tax—he might have been induced to go along with him on the present occasion; but deprecating as he did, above all things, the re-imposition, in times of peace, of such an inquisitorial tax, without the most serious and overwhelming necessity, he could neither adopt the proposal nor act on the motives of the hon. Member. The hon. member for Breconshire (Colonel Wood) had urged the House to repeal one-half of the Malt-tax, and impose a new duty of 5s. on beer; but what would be the consequence of that? The Beer-tax had been repealed now two years; and would there not be great vexation in re-establishing it? Would not the greatest inconvenience result from any fresh interference with it, now that much capital had been invested in the trade, and had adjusted itself to the present scale of taxation. Would not the re-imposition of that tax occasion more inconvenience than advantage? He remembered well, 899 that the strongest outcry was raised against the Beer-tax, because it was said, that it fell very heavily upon the poor, who were unable to brew themselves, and were compelled to purchase their beer of the brewers, and that the repeal of the Malt-tax would only benefit noblemen and gentlemen who brewed and consumed their own beer, but would be no relief to the poorer classes, whose consumption of beer was much greater than theirs. There was, indeed, no other reason for abolishing the Beer-tax than a strong conviction, that it was most unjust towards the labouring classes of society; in fact, that the rich man paid no more than twenty, while the poor man paid, at least, 100 per cent. One of the great reasons for abolishing that tax was, that it operated unjustly towards the industrious and labouring classes of society; but if the proposition of the hon. Member was agreed to, it would revive that tax, and substitute for the duty on malt, now in operation, an impost which would have the same effect precisely, as far as agriculture was concerned, although in an altered form. He still adhered to the opinion, that to the extent to which taxes could be removed, consistently with the maintenance of the public credit, the agriculturists had the first claim; and he hoped the noble Lord (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) would consider the proposition he had made the other night, to appoint a Committee for the purpose of maturely considering what was the real effect of public and local taxation on the agricultural classes. There could be no possible objection to such an inquiry, embracing, as it would, specific facts, in order to see how far, and whether fairly or unfairly, the pressure of taxation fell on the rural population. He very much doubted, whether the abolition of the Malt-tax would produce the relief to the landed interest which was generally imagined. The Malt-tax produced about 5,000,000l. The actual Poor-rates from the land much about the same amount. He was speaking strictly of the Poor-rate—of that part of the Poor-rates which pressed upon the land. And if he were asked this question—whether it would be of greater advantage to the landed interest to get rid of the Malt-tax of 5,000,000l., or to get rid of the Poor-rates; he should not have the slightest hesitation in answering the latter. Suppose they could apply the 900 produce of the Malt-tax to the provision of the poor out of the public funds, would there be any hesitation in saying which would prove the most effectual relief to the agriculturists. Certainly, the removal of the Poor-rate would be one of infinitely greater, more general, and more just relief to the landed interest, than the mere repeal of the tax upon barley. In uttering these opinions, he did not intend to preclude himself from fully considering, whether there might not, with advantage, be a partial remission of the Malt-tax to the extent of the surplus which the noble Lord could afford to bestow. He said, afford to bestow, because he believed the noble Lord had not above 1,200,000l. to give away. He was not prepared, at once, to say, that taking off a fourth of the Malt-tax would operate as any great relief to agriculture. If only one-fourth were reduced, all the vexation attendant upon the collection of the tax would still continue. He must certainly bear in mind, that we were living in a country where there were great quantities of barley grown; but he much doubted whether, by the remission of the Barley-tax to that amount, though he knew the barley growers were suffering, they would give relief to that class of the agriculturists who were most in want of it. It was established before the Committee last year, that the cold wet clay districts in which barley was not much grown, were the most suffering. In some of those districts the rent used to be 20s., and the charges 50s.; now the rent was 50s. and the charges were 20s. These lands would get no relief from a partial remission of the Malt-tax. Considering the manner in which the hon. Baronet had brought the question forward, and the deep importance of the interests at stake, he certainly hoped, that the whole subject would receive the early attention of that House (and certainly none deserved it more), with a view of establishing some permanent system of relief. Though he could not, at present, concur in the total repeal of the Malt-tax, and though he thought the advantages of a partial repeal somewhat doubtful, yet he considered, that whenever the Chancellor of the Exchequer could, consistently with the state of the revenue, and the maintenance of public credit, make any remission of taxation, the agricultural interest had the very first claim to the benefit of that remission.
§ Mr. Cobbett
would state, that his opinion with respect to the Repeal of the Malt-tax did not agree with that of the right hon. Baronet at all. For he could not conceive him to be guided by correct principles for the relief of the farmer, when he stated, that he would choose the abolition of the Poor-rates in preference to the Repeal of the Malt-tax. He feared, indeed, that he had fallen into the same error as the noble Lord had done when he stated, that the Poor-rates pressed heavily on the occupiers of the soil. In what way, he would ask, did they press heavily on the occupiers of the soil? It could not be said, that they pressed more heavily upon them than the tithes. They could, in truth, be only regarded as a part of the rent, and as such produced no pressure on the farmers. In illustration of this point, he would say, that he might as well call upon the House for relief from the payment of stamps at the Stamp-office. To say, that the occupiers of the soil were the payers of the Poor-rates would indeed be false and absurd. They did no such thing. It was the consumer who paid the Poor-rates. Instead, therefore, of going into a General Committee of Inquiry into the natural and local burthens of the occupier of land, as had been suggested by the hon. Baronet, it would be more convenient for the House to consider one thing at a time, and in the meantime to take into their serious consideration the Repeal of the Malt-tax. He had no doubt but that it would be argued by some, that the Repeal of the Malt-tax was putting the money into the pockets of the landlords. No such thing. The idea was preposterous, and wholly unfounded, unless it could be shown that the landlords drank all the beer. Those who maintained the opinion that all the profits arising from the Repeal of this tax would accrue to the landowners, had a very erroneous view of the subject; for it was clear the money would be put into the pocket of the consumer, and into his pocket only. It was true, many of the witnesses examined by the Committee said, that beer-shops were a great evil, but many witnesses also gave it as their opinion, that the proper remedy for this evil would be the Repeal of the Malt-tax. Beer-shops were an evil, but the real correction of that evil would be the repeal of the Malt-tax. The amount of this tax was the great objection stated against it. Now, his objection was not 902 so much to the amount as to the mischief produced by the tax. It was not just to say, that this tax bore more heavily than other taxes upon particular classes. The fact was, that all taxes spread themselves over the whole of society, and if a tax were imposed on titles of nobility, that tax would eventually fall upon the poor as well as the rich. The amount of the Malt-tax would be a matter of indifference to him if there were no injurious circumstances connected with it besides the amount. The first evil was, that it drove the working people to the beer-shops, and a still greater evil that it drove the farming servants from the houses of the farmers. They must be all aware what a great change had taken place in this respect from the old custom. Formerly the servants were kept and maintained from their youth in the farming houses, and no person would deny that they were much better off under the care of the farmer and his wife than under that of their father and mother, because they were not so much indulged. This change of custom had operated a great and lamentable change in the character and manners of the rural population, and the great cause of this was the Malt-tax. One of the greatest sources of expense in keeping men servants in farmhouses was the beer they drank. Beer they must have, and beer they ought to have. They must have ale, too, occasionally, and they ought to have it. This being the case, the farmer now, in place of keeping labourers in the house, hired the servants by the week, one boy for one week, another boy for another, to save the expense of beer. Another evil was, that the Malt-tax created a monstrous monopoly. Eight bushels of barley would produce nine bushels of malt. Now, any farmer, were it not for this tax, could make his own malt as well as a maltster; and what a great difference would it make to him, having his own barley in the house, if he could convert as much or as little of it as he pleased into malt when he had occasion for it. The price of malt now was 64s. the quarter, or 8s. a bushel. The present price of barley was 24s. a quarter, and the tax 20s. 8d.; making together 44s. 8d. Now the whole difference between this and 64s. went into the pocket of the maltster. This difference went to pay the maltster's profit and licence, and interest on his capital. But what was the maltster's capital to the farmer? The 903 farmer did not want it, and would, indeed, be better without it; for, by the operation of this tax, it was clear that 20s. per quarter was added to the price of the barley, and the duty; for the increase gained in malting was quite sufficient to produce a handsome profit. He was surprised at some of the observations of the hon. member for Bridport. Did the hon. Member imagine that the people belonging to barley lands, were the only people that liked beer? The hon. Member would find that half the beer was drunk in the towns; and when the hon. member for Westminster expressed his intention of voting against this Motion, because it would be injurious to his constituents, by depriving them of the 1,200,000l. which the noble Lord had in his pocket to dispose of, he would ask him if he did not believe that his constituents drank beer? Yes; and the tax which they paid in consequence of the duty upon malt, he would pledge himself to show, by figures, amounted to four times as much as the sum which they paid for House and Window-duties. Imagine an artisan, or little tradesman, paying 4l. or 5l. a-year for the House and Window-tax, and sending for three or four pots of beer every day of his life—let him brew his own beer—let him get his malt at 26s. a quarter instead of 64s., and then, he asked, would such a man gain more by the abolition of the House and Window-duty, or by ceasing to pay the tax upon malt. With regard to the Motion, he was very much divided as to whether he should vote for the Motion or not. He had great respect for the hon. Baronet who made this Motion, but it depended on whether the repeal of the Malt-tax was to be total or partial. He doubted whether a partial repeal would produce any sensible good. Suppose 10s., half the duty, were taken off, all the rest remained—all the monopoly—all the vexation—all remained. The working man would still have to pay 54s. a quarter for malt, whilst he wanted him to pay only 24s. If the price were only reduced to 54s. instead of 24s., he would almost as lieve pay 64s. He should, however, reserve to himself the right of voting as he thought most advantageous. The hon. member for Westminster had made some of the strangest observations he ever heard in his life. What strange hostility the Members for some of the Metropolitan constituencies seemed to bear to the land! 904 One would almost think they never ate. The hon. Member had reminded the House, that the landlords were greatly relieved by the taking off the Property-tax. What! did it relieve the land and the land alone? Why, surely this must have taken place before the hon. and gallant Member was born. He had no land then, and yet he paid a Property-tax. He paid a good 100l. a-year Property-tax for a certain publication which should be nameless in that House. That was not landed property, and yet he knew that he felt a most sensible relief. Surely they were not to be told, that the landlords alone derived relief from the repeal of that tax. He thanked the House for the attention with which he was heard, and would not trespass longer on their time.
§ Mr. Clay
said, that, as the question seemed to be reduced to the point of considering which of certain modes of taxation was most expedient, he felt himself bound to declare, that in his opinion the budget of the noble Lord opposite was preferable to that of the hon. Baronet on his side of the House. He could not believe, that this Motion was supported by its promoters on the ground, that it would afford relief to the people at large. Considering the proposition which had been brought forward on a former evening by the noble Marquess who had seconded this Motion, he must look at the Motion of that night as one intended for the exclusive benefit of the agricultural interest. He thought, that his hon. friend, the member for Bridport, had indisputably proved that the taking off the Beer-tax was more calculated to benefit the people than the taking off the Malt-tax. He looked upon those who now proposed this Motion as persons eminently wise in their generation, for they had brought it forward to benefit the class to which they themselves belonged, namely—the agricultural. Now, he put it to the House, whether the Members of that class were entitled to such a boon,—they who were now in possession of the greatest and the most monstrous monopoly that had ever been known in any country in the world. He had that day taken the trouble of making some inquiries respecting that monopoly; and he found, upon comparing the price of grain in bond with the duty which must now be paid before it could be let out of bond, that the agriculturists had a protecting 905 duty on wheat of 140 per cent, and on barley of 130 per cent. With such a protecting duty on an article which was justly considered the staff of life, with such a monopoly too as they possessed of the domestic Corn Market, they had still the assurance to come down to the House and ask for the remission of a tax, every farthing of which would be put exclusively into their own pockets. The hon. and gallant member for Breconshire had stated, that the mere agitation of this question last Session had raised the price of barley several shillings—8s. or 9s. at least, in the quarter. That was the very reason why he opposed the Motion. The hon. member for Oldham stated, that the price of a quarter of barley was 24s. and of a quarter of malt was 64s. Now, he had that morning inquired into the point himself, and he found that barley, according to its quality, was 27s., 30s., and 34s. a quarter, and that malt was 53s., 55s., and 58s.; so that the difference between the price of barley and of malt was nothing like so enormous as that which the hon. Member had stated. The hon. Member concluded by declaring his intention to vote against the Motion.
considered the subject under debate as one of extreme importance, notwithstanding the manner, highly unfortunate for the cause, in which the hon. Baronet had thought proper to introduce it. He trusted, however, that the merits of the question would not be permitted to suffer on that account. There were some who thought, that a partial repeal of the Malt-tax was desirable; some who were of opinion, that the repeal ought to be total. Under such circumstances, there was but one course of proceeding which could be considered perfectly justifiable. Here were a great many Gentlemen all ready to afford relief, but not agreeing as to the extent of that relief. The only proper course, therefore, was to put the Motion in a shape which should enable all who agreed in the general principle, that relief to some extent or other should be afforded, fully to discuss to what extent it should be carried. In all the recent proceedings of that House, it had been the uniform rule and practice to deal with all questions affecting our commerce, our agriculture, our manufactures, or any other of our great interests, in a Committee of the whole House; it being obvious, that a debate upon any subject 906 of that kind could be carried on more conveniently and more satisfactorily in a Committee of the House, than in the House itself. He thought, therefore, that the change which the hon. Baronet had made in the form of his Motion, was a discreet one; and he wished that the rest of the course pursued by the hon. Baronet had been equally discreet. On one point he perfectly concurred with his right hon. friend, the Member for Tamworth; and he trusted that the great majority of that House would never be of any other opinion, than that the public faith of the country must be supported, at whatever expense, and with whatever sacrifices. If the public engagements of the country were not performed—if the country ceased to respect its engagements—the example would operate on all private transactions, and no individual whatever would be secure in the enjoyment of his rights. He held, that the maintenance of national faith was the only proof of civilization; and that, to permit the good faith of this country to be overborne by clamour or party would be to ensure the downfall of the country itself. He trusted, therefore, that the House, however constituted, would never take any step which might place the finances of this country in a situation to expose us to the danger of such a catastrophe. The great change proposed, involving no less than 4,500,000l. of revenue, rendered it necessary to consider what the general state of our finances was. He begged for a moment to take a view of their state at the end of the last war. That war left us with tremendous debt. With that debt we were still loaded; for, with the exception of the higher stocks, which had been reduced, there had been little diminution in it. At the period to which he adverted, many persons, and he among the number, thought that it would have been a wise course if the country had had the fortitude to look to the gradual diminution of the debt, and to provide the means for that purpose. That, in his opinion, would have been sound policy. He believed it was the policy that had been recommended by the noble Lord now at the head of his Majesty's Government. He was perfectly convinced, that if that policy had been pursued, the House would not, at the present moment, be debating whether or not it was prudent to make the reduction of taxation proposed. 907 He was perfectly convinced, that if that policy had been pursued, and a very moderate support had been given to public credit, there would have been no such thing at the present moment as any stock bearing an interest of three per cent; for it would have been practicable to reduce that interest to at most two-and-a-half per cent. Had such reduction occurred, we might, at the present moment be reducing all our taxes on spirits, wine, and other articles of extensive consumption. What was the reason that Exchequer-bills bore so small an interest? Because the moneyed public had confidence in the short engagements of Government; and the Exchequer-bills coming round quick, they had no doubts with respect to them. But the moneyed public had no such confidence in the long engagements of Government; for, seeing that the Legislature made no provision for the diminution of the debt, they naturally asked themselves what might eventually become of their property. If, at the termination of the war, a wiser policy had been adopted—if a moderate sinking fund had been reserved, the country would, at the present moment, be enjoying, by its operation, a relief of ten per cent on its burthens. They had recently made an engagement to pay 20,000,000l, to the West-India proprietors. The noble Lord had very properly estimated the interest on that money at four per cent, being 800,000l. Now, he was convinced, that if, at the termination of the war, we had put our credit into the state in which it ought to have been put, that 800,000l. would have been reduced to 400,000l. It appeared to him, therefore, to have been exceedingly unfortunate that another course had not been adopted. Parliament, however, having decided that point otherwise, and it being impossible for us to retrace our steps, he was prepared to deal with the question on the principle upon which Parliament had determined that it should be dealt with; namely, that the country was entitled to every sixpence of relief from taxation which the Treasury could grant it. Under such circumstances, it was natural that hon. Members should claim the particular relief which would be beneficial to their particular constituents. They then came to the simple question before the House. He thought it would be exceedingly proper for the House to go into a Committee on the Malt-tax. All who 908 thought that any relief could be afforded by a reduction of the Malt-tax must vote for the Committee; always leaving it open to them to declare, whether that relief should be 5s. or 10s., or the whole tax. In the first instance, he was inclined to think, that a reduction of 10s. in the duty was the most advisable. He confessed, however, that, on considering the question more carefully, he became of opinion, that it was desirable the whole duty should be got rid of. For, although a reduction of 10s. would be, pro tanto, relief, yet the repeal of the whole tax would be productive of such extensive relief by restoring freedom to the manufacturers of malt, and would so largely benefit agriculture, that he should certainly prefer it. If a reduction of 10s. were made in the duty, the relief afforded would be only to the extent of 10s.; but if the whole duty were repealed, the relief would be not only 1l. 0s. 8d. (the amount of the duty), but of all the additional expense and incumbrance endured by the manufacturer of malt, and which had been so well explained by the hon. member for Oldham. The hon. member for the Tower Hamlets had contradicted the statements of the hon. member for Oldham, respecting the comparative prices of barley and malt. He had taken some trouble to obtain information on the subject, and, he believed, that the mistake of the hon. member for the Tower Hamlets had arisen from his having made his inquiries of the wholesale dealers in Mark-lane, instead of the persons engaged in the operation of malting in the country. If he inquired among small dealers in the country, and in country towns, he would find, that the utmost price of barley per quarter was 25s. or 26s., and the price of malt from 60s. to 64s. If, as had been said, the inhabitants of towns would derive advantage from it, that would be an additional reason for repealing the tax. The price of barley being 25s. a quarter, and the duty 20s. 8d., the real price of the quarter of malt was 45s. 8d. Now, instead of malt being 46s. a quarter, it was 64s. Thus there was a waste of 18s. in every quarter. What the profit of the maltster was he could not say, but he knew that the expense of making barley into malt was comparatively trifling. He presumed, however, that the profit in that trade could not be greater than it was in others, 909 Now, in taking off taxes, they ought always to take into consideration the cost of collection; that was, the difference in the amount of the money taken from the pockets of the people and the sum that was received by the Crown. It was one of the great problems in finance to impose taxes so, that the cost of collection should be as little as possible. Here, however, they found that the actual expense of a quarter of malt, as was clearly shown by the hon. member for Oldham (Mr. Cobbett) was only 45s; whereas the consumer in this country had an additional tax of 18s. a quarter imposed on him for the charge of collection. He thought, that no person who had listened to the very luminous speech of the hon. member for Oldham could have a doubt as to the oppressive operation of that tax. The Government, for the protection of the revenue, imposed restrictions as to the mode in which the article should be manufactured. To carry on the business of malting with success, it was necessary to employ a large capital; for, in many instances, the maltster was obliged to pay large sums in advance to the Government. He was also obliged to keep a large establishment, and was exposed to the most inconvenient, and, in many instances, oppressive, interference in the manufacture; of course such interference, and the advance of capital, made a very considerable additional charge to the consumer. A distinction had that night been drawn between the interests of the agricultural population and the inhabitants of large towns. Now, that was not the first time he had heard such observations, but, he confessed, that he was always sorry to hear them. His hon. friend, the member for Bridport (Mr. Warburton) seemed to consider, that it was his duty to carp at everything connected with the landed interest, and was anxious on all occasions to draw a line between the interests of the town and country population. Now, he thought, that drawing such lines of distinction could only be attended with mischief. He admitted, that if the labouring population of the country was in a state of distress, and labouring under great privations, there must he danger. It had been said, that proper attention had not been paid to the interests of the labouring classes, and, above all, to those of the peasantry. He did not think, that the House was 910 justly liable to the reproach cast upon it by the hon. Baronet. In the long period during which he had been in Parliament, he had never seen that House—whether reformed or unreformed—exhibit any such inattention or indifference. But, in the present case, what was the difference between the situation of the labouring classes in towns, and the labouring classes in the country? And here he begged to observe, that as, in the early part of his life, he enjoyed the benefits accruing from labourers in commerce, so now he enjoyed the benefits accruing from labourers in agriculture. He had no motive, therefore, for leaning either to one party or the other, but he felt entirely free from prejudice in estimating the situation of both. But it was impossible to look at that situation and not see the great advantage which the labouring classes in towns possessed over the labouring classes in the country. In the newspapers of that very morning, a witness in a Court of Justice was reported to have stated, that a journeyman bookbinder, in London, could earn from 36s. to 21. 2s. a week. Now, let the House look at the labouring classes in the country. Such was their distress, and such was the unfortunate operation of the Poor-laws, that the labouring classes in the country were scarcely able, with all their efforts, to earn the scantiest means of existence. Therefore, although it might be perfectly true, that to make beer cheap would be no great object to the labouring classes in towns, it ought to be recollected, that at its present price, it seldom reached the lips of the labouring classes in the country. The proposed alteration would remove this disparity. If it could be accomplished, more would be achieved for the benefit of the poorer classes engaged in agriculture, than by any other measure of a similar description. He repeated what had been so forcibly stated by the hon. member for Oldham, that it was highly desirable that the country labourers should live in the houses of the farmers; but that the effect of the Malt-tax was to drive them out of those houses. If, instead of the labourer living out of the house of his employer, he were to live in it, great moral benefits would result. In the cider counties this benefit had, in many cases, been the result of the repeal of the duty on cider; the labourers lived in the house of the farmer; the labourer and the farmer were drawn more closely 911 together; and the consequence was, that a better feeling was produced between the master and the servant. It was evident, therefore, that if, consistently with the great principle of preserving the national faith, and of maintaining the various establishments of the country in their necessary vigour, they would take such a step, they would certainly be doing a great and important good. He spoke hypothetically; for, admitting that great and creditable reductions had been made in the national expenditure, both by the present Administration and by their predecessors, he was apprehensive that the House and the country must anticipate the speedy arrival of the period when little or nothing more could be accomplished in the shape of economy. What the actual case was with respect to the financial prospects of the country, he could not say. He would not venture to anticipate the noble Lord's budget. He would only declare, that if those prospects were such as to justify such a proceeding, without the danger of occasioning a deficiency in the revenue, he was of opinion, that the proposition made to the House ought to be acquiesced in. If any hesitation existed on the subject, the expediency of it ought to be inquired into. That was the principle which regulated his conduct on this question. He entirely agreed with his right hon. friend, the member for Tamworth, in the imperative necessity of maintaining the national faith; and if he saw, upon investigation, that the proposed repeal was impracticable without endangering the public credit, he should be guilty of gross dereliction of his duty, if he were, for one moment, to give that repeal his countenance and support. The hon. Baronet had suggested the removal of part of the charge from malt to beer—a removal which, in his (Mr. Baring's) opinion, would be desirable. In no case, however, would he increase the price of beer, for what the consumer would lose by increasing the duty on beer he would gain by the reduction of the price of malt. If the noble Lord put a tax on beer producing 2,500,000l., and took off the Malt-tax, there would be a saving to the consumers of beer to the amount of 2,000,000l. He had reason to believe, that the repeal of the Beer-tax had not enabled the Government to make any considerable reductions as to the charge for supervision, and he did not believe that, if his suggestion was 912 adopted, it would lead to a very serious charge for collection. Again, at present, malt paying duty to the amount of 500,000l. was consumed by the distillers. A tax to that amount might be put on spirits without any additional charge to the purchaser. He had also reason to believe, that the constant interference with the distiller, in consequence of the Malt-tax, was attended with so much annoyance and trouble, that the removal of it would almost justify the imposition of another 500,000l. on spirits. Indeed, he had been told by a Scotch distiller, that persons in his trade would willingly consent to have the duty increased from 2s. 9d. to 4s,. provided the Malt-tax were got rid of. By adopting the course, he had suggested the noble Lord would get 2,500,000l. by a duty on beer, 1,000,000l. on spirits, and to that the noble Lord might add the present surplus of 1,800,000l. Thus he would have 5,000,000l. to dispose of. The noble Lord certainly had not pledged himself to the repeal of the House-tax, but had committed himself to a certain extent; and he was prepared to admit, after what had taken place, that it would be an ungracious thing if the agriculturists were to get relief by the repeal of the Malt-duty, and they left on the House-tax. He really thought that, by adopting the course he had suggested, the noble Lord could take off both those taxes. The noble Lord had promised that the agricultural classes should be relieved by an alteration in the Poor-laws. He did not wish to go into that question, but he would tell the noble Lord, if he expected anything like extensive relief, by adopting the regulations recommended by the Poor-laws Commissioners in their Report, he was sure that the noble Lord would be greatly disappointed. Some of those suggestions were beneficial; but others were of a harsh nature, and would only excite ill-feeling, if attempted to be enforced. He would, however, call upon the noble Lord to consider with what grace he could commence imposing fresh hardships on the labouring classes, if he were unable to allow them to exchange cold water for wholesome beer. They must make the labouring classes comfortable before they could look for much improvement. He would only add, that all those who entertained such sentiments would give their rote for the Committee. Lord Althorp, before he went into the 913 general question before the House, was anxious to refer to an observation that fell from the right hon. Baronet (Sir Robert Peel) with regard to the tea trade. He (Lord Althorp) would here observe, that he concurred with the right hon. Gentleman generally in what fell from him, and he was extremely glad to hear many of his observations. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to think, that the new mode of collecting the duty on tea would require a large increase in the number of officers, and also a probable diminution in the amount of the receipts. He did not anticipate any such results. At any rate, during the present year, there was no necessity for going into the subject, as the new arrangements would not come into operation. His hon. friend, the member for Essex (Mr. Baring), commenced his speech by expressing his opinions as to a surplus revenue. Now, his hon. friend was aware that, last year, they differed on that point, and since then he had seen no reason to alter his opinion. His hon. friend had said, and not for the first time in that House, that the reason that Exchequer bills bore less interest than the funds, was, because there was an opinion, that there was a want of security in the funds. He regretted to hear such an opinion expressed by a man of the experience and knowledge of his hon. friend. He was satisfied that his hon. friend was entirely wrong in the view that he had taken of the subject, and the reason he had assigned had nothing to do with the case. In his opinion, the difference of price did not arise from any want of security, but from the greater convenience of Exchequer-bills. His hon. friend had also said, that if after the war we had continued to extract money from the pockets of the people, with the view of keeping up a large surplus, that, at the present time, a low interest would be paid on the funds. Now he did not agree in the opinion that had been expressed; but the consequence of not extracting more taxes from the pockets of the people with the view of keeping up a large surplus revenue was, that the capital of the country had increased, and the people were much more able to pay the interest of the debt than they formerly were. He thought, that Government had acted wisely in pursuing the course which they had, rather than in adopting the plan of his hon. friend. It was well known, that he had long made up his 914 mind as to the impolicy of keeping up a large surplus revenue, and he was satisfied that if attempts had been made to do so from the peace, the result must have been most unsatisfactory. The probability was, that the Government would have been resisted, and that confusion would have ensued. His hon. friend then went to the question as proposed by the hon. member for Lincolnshire. He felt pretty confident, knowing as he did his hon. friend, the member for Lincolnshire, that the course which he would propose, would be straight and plain. But he (Lord Althorp) could not help feeling that, in the mode which the hon. Baronet had adopted in proposing the Repeal of the Malt-tax, he was advised by certain persons who were much better tacticians than his hon. friend. He must say, that his hon. friend had adopted advice which was not calculated to forward his views, and he was sure, that if his hon. friend had brought forward his Motion as he intended, he would have been likely to have got more supporters to his Motion. Now what was the Motion before the House? It was for a Committee of the whole House to inquire whether a reduction could be made in taxation, and, incidentally, what practical reductions could be made in the expenditure. Now, what were the topics which the House would have to consider? Different suggestions had been made as to the course which ought to be pursued. One suggestion was, that reduction should be made by taking away a portion of the interest of the National Debt. Another was, how far the expenditure of the country as regarded our establishments could be reduced to effect the object in view. Indeed, it would appear the inquiries of the Committee would extend to the whole income and expenditure of the country. Again, some questions were to be considered as to the taxes which were to be placed on in commutation of some which it was proposed to take off. His hon. friend, the member for Lincolnshire, stated what course he would pursue; and he could not help observing on this part of the subject, that his hon. friend who spoke last, did not take a view of the subject so different from that taken by the hon. Baronet as he (Lord Althorp) had expected. His hon. friend, the member for Wiltshire, had suggested, that a Property-tax should be imposed. He would only say, if the Committee was appointed, and took upon 915 itself the imposition of taxes, it would, in point of fact, assume the whole functions of the Executive Government; and it ought not to be forgotten that the inquiry was to take place before a Committee of the whole House. For his part, he did not see how, by any possibility, such an inquiry could be conducted in such a way. He recollected, that some years ago, his right hon. friend, the member for Manchester (Mr. Poulett Thomson), brought forward a motion for the House to inquire into the whole system of taxation. Now, what was the ground for opposing that Motion? The right hon. Gentleman who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer said, that no Government could consent to a Motion of the kind without a complete abandonment of its duty; and the only ground for supporting the Motion was, that the Government had not acted consistently with the interests of the country, and that, therefore, the House took the management of the financial affairs of the country out of their hands. Therefore, taking such a view of the case, he felt that it would be utterly disgraceful to him if he did not resist the Motion to the utmost. On these grounds, he hoped the House would not consent to a Motion which implied a censure on the Government. His hon. friend who had spoken last, recommended that a tax on beer should be imposed, and said, that it would not press on the consumer so much as the Malt-tax. Now, he (Lord Althorp) would say, without hesitation, that that would not be the case as regarded the poorer class of consumers; and, in addition, it would be an unequal tax, and, therefore, must press more unfairly than the tax on malt. The hon. member for Oldham recommended that the House should repeal the whole tax. He agreed with the hon. Member, that it would be better to get rid of the whole tax than reduce it, for if the whole was not got rid of, the expense of collection, and all the vexation and difficulty now in the way of the trade, would still be retained. He agreed with the hon. Member, that the full benefit would not be given to agriculture, if they did not get rid of the whole tax, and, above all, as regarded farmers making their own malt. With respect to the observations that had been made as to the improvements that would take place in the condition of the agricultural peasantry from taking off the Malt-tax, he had a few 916 observations to make. It had been stated, that the agricultural labourers would be induced to brew their own beer; but, however desirable that might appear, he did not believe that a change of that kind would be brought about in the present state of things. He repeated, that he did not believe that a Repeal of the Malt-tax would produce such a state of things; on the contrary, he was satisfied that the labouring classes would find it more worth their while to buy their beer of brewers than to brew it themselves. Indeed, it was hardly possible for labourers to make beer as cheap as those persons could afford to sell it who had large capitals. He was also much afraid, that the system was at an end of farm servants living in the houses of their employers, and that it was not very likely to be revived. He did not believe, that the Repeal of the Malt-tax would be productive of any such result. With respect to the recommendation, that a tax should be imposed on beer in lieu of the Malt-tax, he wished to observe, that he very well recollected the arguments which were urged with reference to the Repeal of the Beer-tax. It was then shown, that the regulations necessary in the collection of that tax were most vexatious; and it was also proved to the satisfaction of the House, that the consumers of beer would gain much more by getting rid of that tax, than by reducing the Malt-tax. Indeed he was satisfied, that any attempt to re-impose that tax, or impose a tax of a similar nature on the country, would give rise to the most serious opposition. He (Lord Althorp) had said, that the imposing a tax on beer in the room of the Malt-tax would be unfair, as it would throw a burthen on the poorer classes of the consumers of beer. If the plan suggested was adopted, a person with a large house in the country and a numerous establishment would be enabled to make his own beer, and at any rate pay but a small amount to the revenue; whereas the poorer classes, who in nearly all cases would not have the means of brewing, would have to pay nearly the whole of the proposed Beer-tax. He did not think, that a House of Commons would ever accede to a proposition tending to such a result. His hon. friend had suggested, that there should be an increase in the duty laid on spirits. He agreed, he believed, with almost every Gentleman in the House that the utmost amount of duty should be raised on spirits that could be 917 collected; but he did not think that it would be possible to increase the duty with any prospect of increasing the revenue. From all that he had heard, he was satisfied the adoption of such a course as that suggested would encourage illicit distillation, and which he did not think would tend to improve the morals of the people. In corroboration of what he had just stated, he would mention a circumstance to the House which must be in the recollection of many who heard him. In 1830, there was an increase in the duty on spirits. It was calculated, that the increased duty would produce 600,000l. to the revenue, whereas, instead of such a result, there was an actual falling-off to the amount of 100,000l. He had reason to believe, that that result had not arisen from a falling off in the consumption of spirits, but in consequence of the increase of illicit distillation. Under these circumstances, however desirable it might appear, he did not think that they could calculate upon getting any counterbalance for the reduction of the Malt-tax by increasing the duty on spirits. His hon. friend must, on reflection, recollect that the reduction of the Malt-tax would in some degree operate as a temptation to the smuggler. The smuggler and fair trader would start on equal terms if they at present bought malt, and the smuggler would only save the amount of the duty on spirits. It did not make any difference to the fair trader whether he paid the whole duty on the spirits, or partially on the spirits and partially on the malt. If, however, the duty on the malt was taken off, the smuggler would be able to avail himself of the benefit of the reduction, and to make a larger profit by his illicit distillation, It was on this ground, therefore, he was satisfied, that the adoption of the course suggested by his hon. friend would be productive of mischief. Seeing, therefore, the subject in that point of view, and feeling that going into Committee would be productive of no good, but that it would only occasion unnecessary alarm, and believing also, that it was of the utmost importance in the present state of the finances of the country, to maintain confidence in the national faith, he felt called upon to resist the Motion. He repeated, that the state of our finances did not warrant a reduction of the whole of the Malt-tax, and that taking off one-half, or one-quarter of the duty would be only 918 so much loss to the revenue, without anything like an equivalent advantage to the country. He was most anxious to give every relief to the agricultural classes, although he was not prepared to propose such relief as some hon. Members connected with the agriculture of the country demanded; but it was, however, his intention to recommend to the House, that a number of minor fiscal regulations which pressed in a vexatious manner should be got rid of. The adoption of that course would be attended with little loss to the revenue, and he hoped that, together with other arrangements which he should not then go into, something effective would be done towards affording relief to that important interest. He believed, that on a Motion made in another place, a Committee was appointed to inquire into this part of the subject, and an hon. Gentleman well acquainted with country matters intended to adopt a similar course in that House. He could assure the House, that he was as anxious as any man to do all in his power to relieve the country from the burthens under which it laboured, and all he could say, was, that if any means of effecting that object, without endangering the public credit, or injuring the finances of the country, could be pointed out, he for one, and as a Minister of the Crown, should be most willing to assent to the adoption of it. With these views, he hoped the Motion, notwithstanding the altered shape in which it had been brought forward, would be rejected; for, without seeing their way clearly, a Committee would be useless, and if they did see their way clearly, it would be altogether unnecessary. If they saw their way clearly, the worst course they could pursue would be to go into a Committee, for if they were to take that course, at least twenty different propositions, each in collision with the other, would be brought under consideration, and the result would be interminable discussion and waste of time, without any good being effected. Under these circumstances, he hoped and trusted the House would resist the Motion.
§ Mr. Hume
hoped that, whatever change was effected, nothing would be done which would in any way endanger public credit. Although he differed in his view of the question from the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) he should at all times strenuously resist any attempt that might 919 be made to break down the confidence which the public creditor reposed in his Majesty's Government. By the reference which the noble Lord had made to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, the Vice-President of the Board of Trade, he had placed himself in an awkward predicament; and if he Mr. Hume were to refer to a vote which the noble Lord had given on a Motion similar to the present, that awkwardness would not be lessened, for he would defy the noble Lord to explain the difference of the two cases. But the noble Lord had only himself to blame for the unenviable situation in which he was now placed; he had brought himself into the dilemma, and he must get out of it how he could. If, instead of allowing conflicting interests to fight their own battles, the noble Lord had made up his mind, as he ought to have done, to apply the surplus revenue he had in hand in the reduction of taxation, he never would have been placed in the difficulty in which he now stood. The policy in which the noble Lord had acted was most erroneous, and it was because he (Mr. Hume) desired the industry of the country to be relieved from the heavy burthens under which it laboured, that he should give his support to the Motion of his hon. friend the member for Lincolnshire. It was an error to suppose that this was purely an agricultural question, for the repeal of the Malt-tax would be advantageous alike to all classes. The repeal of 4,500,000l. of taxation would be good for all parties, whether living in country or towns. If the Malt-tax were taken off, the agriculturists must consent to a plan for the free importation of grain. That, however, was another question; but if they supported the present Motion, he, for one, would consider them bound, nay, pledged, to advocate the free importation of corn. Being satisfied, that the time was near at hand when the Corn-laws must be altered, he considered the inquiry proposed by this Motion one of paramount importance, and as the noble Lord opposite—as his Majesty's Government—had declined to do anything for the benefit of the people, it was the duty of that House to take the matter into its own hands. He freely acknowledged that the Motion of his hon. friend did trench upon the functions of the noble Lord (the Chancellor of the Exchequer), but if the noble Lord threw the duty which he ought to perform, upon that House, the noble 920 Lord might expect that the House would not shrink from discharging it. No man could deny that the present system of taxation pressed most unequally, and that it was the bounden duty of that House to see whether some better and more equitable mode of taxation could not be devised. He did not hesitate to say, that if what the Committee sought for by the Motion of his hon. friend were granted, instead of injuring the public credit, the Committee would show how public credit could be best sustained. It was not true that the remission of this tax, amounting only to 4,500,000l., would endanger public credit; but, even if it were true, that was not the question which they had now to deal with. The question was, could not the present system of taxation be changed for one that was more equitable? And if that House did not take the subject into its own hands, the country could not hope that any relief would be afforded to it. The subject of reduction could, however, be better considered in a Committee than anywhere else; and if the noble Lord would only call to recollection the sentiments he had formerly expressed, he would not now resist the Motion of the hon. Baronet. Did the noble Lord suppose, that if he was able to show that no better tax could be substituted for the Malt-tax, the House would not go along with him? He (Mr. Hume) believed that no more injurious tax existed; but still, if the noble Lord could convince a Committee that it could not be spared, they would not demand its remission. It had ever been his opinion, that it was bad policy on the part of the Government to raise the price of beer, and by that means to increase the consumption of spirits. They had all seen the baneful effects of the change, and how the morality of the lower classes had been endangered by it; and if they meant to bring society back to those moral habits from which, by the use of spirits, the people had unfortunately departed, that House must allow the poor to be supplied with a more wholesome, and at the same time, a cheaper beverage. He knew of no means by which spirit-drinking could be got rid of but by the removal of the Malt-tax; and if, on the one-hand, it was said that the remission of that tax would benefit only the landed proprietor, he, on the other, asserted, that it would be equally advantageous to every other class of the community. It was idle to 921 say, that the benefit would be partial. Although the outcry against beer-shops had been very great, he had always approved of the conduct of Government in that respect; but, notwithstanding, he did not wish them to retrace their steps in this particular, he could see no reason why the Committee now sought for should not be granted, if not to attain any positive good, at least to convince the public that they were well disposed to do their duty. He contended that the inquiry would be as much for the benefit of the commercial interest as for that of the landed interest. Both parties were implicated in the question of over taxation, and he believed that unless something was speedily done to relieve the country from the burthens which oppressed it the consequences would be most lamentable. One means of effecting that object would be the repeal of the tax upon Malt. It was a mistake on the part of his hon. friend to suppose that the imposition of an additional duty of 2s. 6d. a gallon on gin would not lead to an increase of illicit distillation. They had only to refer to Ireland and to Scotland to be convinced that the notion of his hon. friend on the point was fallacious. An additional duty of 6d. a gallon had been laid on Scotch and Irish spirits, and what was the result? Why, that illicit distillation was renewed to an incredible extent in the Highlands of Scotland, and in several parts of Ireland. Instead of endangering the public credit, or occasioning dissatisfaction, going into a Committee would rather fortify the one and prevent the other. It would induce the country still to place confidence in his Majesty's Ministers, and convince the people that their complaints were not unattended to by that House. This was the opinion which he entertained, and therefore he should vote for the inquiry.
had not many observations to offer to the House, but, coming as he did, from a remote part of the empire, where great distress prevailed, he felt it to be his particular duty to call the attention of the House to one or two points. In the first place, what was the question which they were called upon to decide? The question was, not that they should pledge themselves to the remission of any tax, but simply that they should grant an inquiry. This he understood to be the object of the hon. Baronet's Motion. Now, the noble Lord, the Chancellor 922 of the Exchequer, resisted the inquiry; but what was the argument he used? Why, he said that as the case was not clear, inquiry would be fruitless; but if they were clear as to the course they ought to pursue, would there be any necessity for the appointment of a Committee? It was because the case was not clear, that inquiry was called for; and he must say, that, if they refused this inquiry, the rejection of the Motion of the hon. Baronet would amount to a declaration that they did not intend to afford any relief to the agricultural interest—["No, no."] Hon. Gentleman said, "No, no;" but he would ask the House whether it was not on behalf of the agricultural interest that the inquiry was sought? This could not be denied; and he was therefore right when he said, that refusing the Committee would be tantamount to declaring that they did not mean to do anything for the agricultural interest. Perhaps the agricultural interest had no claim upon the sympathies of Parliament; but if they would look at the Agricultural Reports of 1821 and 1833, they would find that that interest was labouring under accumulated distress. Indeed, if they would only refer to his Majesty's Speech, they would find the same fact stated, for although in that document the Ministers triumphed in the commercial prosperity that obtained, they admitted and regretted the existence of great agricultural distress. That agricultural distress prevailed in all parts of Ireland, was disputed by no one; but still it would appear that his Majesty's Government had no intention to propose any measure for the relief of that country. The only tax proposed to be taken off, was the House-tax; but the remission of that tax would afford no relief to Ireland. The duty on glass and the Window-tax had been extended to Ireland; but such was the poverty of the country, that they were found wholly unproductive, and consequently repealed. He stood there in behalf of the agricultural interest of Ireland. Perhaps the naming of anything connected with Ireland, might create a laugh in that Houses—["No, no."] Well, then, he supposed there was no laugh. But, even supposing the House and Window-duties were both repealed, he would ask how such a remission could benefit Ireland? He had a right to call on that House to institute such an inquiry as would relieve the agricultural interest of 923 Ireland as well as that of this country. But if it were intended that no relief should be afforded to Ireland, it would be only fair on the part of the Government to say so. The Committee, if granted, would not be called upon to decide the amount of relief which should be granted. Its duty would only be to point out how that relief could best be obtained. Although no direct taxes existed in Ireland, still taxation was severely felt in that part of the empire. One of the objects which the Committee proposed by the hon. Baronet should consider, was, whether it would not be possible to commute the present system of taxation into a property, not an income-tax. He had no disposition whatever to lean on one part of the empire more than another. But of this he was convinced, that a Property-tax alone would be of advantage to Ireland. He knew he should be assailed with brutality out of doors, and fiercely attacked in that House; but still he would declare the sentiments which he had before expressed, and affix on others the charge and the responsibility of that gross and arbitrary robbery which had been committed by the Legislature in favour of the public creditor on the public debtor. The public debt had been contracted in one species of currency, and paid in another, and therefore he insisted that robbery had been committed on the one hand, and that national faith had been violated on the other. Was it "cant" then to say if the national faith had been violated on one hand, it should be violated on the other? Was it "cant" that both parties should equally suffer from the transitions which had taken place in the currency? Why should the debtor be placed in a worse situation than the creditor. The debt was contracted in a paper currency. Why was it to be paid in gold. But to show that it was not cant to say that the fundholders should hear their share of the public burthens, he had only to refer to the proposition of the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who proposed a tax on the transfer of Stock. If he had been denounced for his views, why should the noble Lord escape, who, by that tax, touched the sanctity of the cherished interest. He had been met by a unanimity of attack from the other side of the House for merely wishing to discuss the question, while the noble Lord who made a formal proposal, passed unrebuked. He was 924 called a profligate—a political profligate; but he shared that profligacy with a right hon. Baronet opposite, a near neighbour of his accusers. He had only proposed a reduction of five per cent; the right hon. Gentleman had, in a pamphlet published by him, declared that the claim of the fundholders ought to be reduced to the extent of twenty-five per cent. Why did the hon. Gentlemen who had so unmeasuredly assailed him, sit so close to a political profligate? Why suffer the contamination of his contact? He (Mr. O'Connell) trusted the right hon. Baronet (Sir James Graham) would not consider what he then uttered was meant to give personal offence. Nothing was further from his intentions; but the inconsistency was so glaring, that he should be unjust to himself if he allowed it to escape observation. Whether his plan were spurned or not, the House was bound, as the Representatives of the people, to relieve the landed interests. Ireland had no commerce; she had only her soil for her support: a Property-tax would search and find what property was out of the country—what property ought to be taxed. The noble Lord said, he would refuse the inquiry, because, if granted, they would be abdicating the functions of Government. Why had they not already abdicated? They had often yielded; still they were not deterred from holding the reins of power in their hands. They, indeed, possessed a dexterity and an evasiveness that were not creditable to any Government. They sought to play off the Metropolitan boroughs against the country interest. They looked for stray votes here, and stray votes there. It was a Government of shifts and expedients. They shifted to one side—they moved to another. Defeated in one place, they attempted to rally elsewhere. They put their helm a-lee. They cautiously moved by Sylla—they scarcely dared to approach Charybdis. The House had made them amenable. It was right a Government should be under the influence of the House. He besought them now to exercise that influence, and compel the inquiry so urgently and emphatically prayed for.
§ Sir William Ingilby,
in reply, said, that not a single satisfactory objection had been urged against his budget, even by the right hon. Baronet, the member for Tamworth. He sought the total annihilation of the Malt-tax, and, as he was actuated 925 by no other motive than a desire to alleviate the distresses of the poor, he hoped the result of his Motion would be a triumph over his opponents.
§ The House divided—Ayes 170; Noes 271: Majority 101.
|List of the AYES.|
|Adams, E. H.||Goring, H. D.|
|Aglionby, H. A.||Guise, Sir W.|
|Arbuthnot, Hon. H.||Gully, J.|
|Attwood, M.||Halcombe, J.|
|Attwood, T.||Halford, H.|
|Baillie, J. E.||Hall, B.|
|Bainbridge, E. T.||Handley, H.|
|Bankes, W. J.||Hanmer, Sir J.|
|Baring, A.||Hanmer Col.|
|Baring, H. B.||Harvey, D. W.|
|Barnard, E. G.||Hardy, J.|
|Beauclerk, Major||Herbert, Hon. S.|
|Bell, M.||Hope, H. T.|
|Benett, J.||Henniker, Lord|
|Blackstone, W. S.||Irton, S.|
|Briggs, R.||Jervis, J.|
|Bruce, Lord E.||Jolliffe, H.|
|Brudenell, Lord||Kennedy, J.|
|Buckingham, J. S.||Keppel, Hon G.|
|Burrell, Sir C.||Kerrison, Sir E.|
|Burton, H.||Leech, J.|
|Berkeley, Hon. G.||Lennox, Lord W.|
|Cartwright, W. R.||Lincoln, Earl of|
|Cayley, E. S.||Lister, E. C.|
|Chandos, Marquess of||Lowther, Hon. H. C.|
|Chaplin, Colonel||Lygon, Hon. G. H.|
|Clive, Hon. R. H.||Martin, J.|
|Clayton, Sir W.||Meynell, Capt.|
|Cotes, J.||Miles, W.|
|Crawley, S.||Milton, Viscount|
|Curteis, H. B.||Norreys, Lord|
|Dare, R. W. H.||Palmer, Robert|
|Darlington, Earl of||Palmer, General|
|Dashwood, G. H.||Parker, Sir Hyde|
|Davies, Col.||Parrott, J.|
|Dillwyn, L. W.||Pigot, R.|
|Duffield, T.||Pelham, Hn. C. A. W.|
|Dugdale, D. S.||Poulter, J. S.|
|Dundas, Captain||Richards, J.|
|Dawson, E.||Rippon, C.|
|Duncombe, Hon. H.||Robinson, G. R.|
|Durham, Sir P. H.||Rooper, J. B.|
|Egerton, W. T.||Russell, W. C.|
|Etwall, R.||Seale, Colonel|
|Faithfull, G.||Simeon, Sir R. G.|
|Fancourt, Major||Spry, S. T.|
|Fellowes, Hon. N.||Stanley, E.|
|Fellowes, Hn. H. A. W.||Stewart, J.|
|Fielden, J.||Sanford, E. A.|
|Finch, G.||Sanderson, R.|
|Foley, Hon. E.||Shawe, R. N.|
|Folkes, Sir W.||Tancred, H. W.|
|Forester, Hon. G. C. W.||Townshend, Lord C.|
|Fremantle, Sir T.||Taylor, M. A.|
|Fryer, R.||Tennyson, Rt. Hn. C.|
|Gaskell, J. M.||Tower, J.|
|Gaskell, D.||Trevor, Hon. G. R.|
|Trelawney, W. L. S.||O'Connell, Maurice|
|Tyrell, Sir J. T.||O'Connell, Morgan|
|Tyrell, C.||O'Connell, J.|
|Tynte, J. C. K.||O'Connor, F.|
|Tollemache, Hn. A. G.||O'Dwyer, A. C.|
|Vernon, Granville||Roe, J.|
|Walter, J.||Roche, D.|
|Weyland, Major||Roche, W.|
|Williams, Col.||Ruthven, E. S.|
|Williams, Robert||Ruthven, E.|
|Wilmot, Sir Eardley||Sheil, R. L.|
|Wood, Colonel||Sullivan, R.|
|Windham, W. H.||Vigors, N. A.|
|Welby, G. E.||Wallace, T.|
|Watkins, J. L. V.||SCOTLAND.|
|Wilks, J.||Bruce, C.|
|IRISH.||Gillon, W. D.|
|Blayney, Hon. C.||Gordon, Hon. W.|
|Barry, G. S.||Grant, hon. Col.|
|Butler, Hon. Colonel||Maxwell, J.|
|Blake, M. J.||Sinclair, G.|
|Cole, Lord||PAIRED OFF.|
|Conolly, Colonel||Bowes, J.|
|Daly, James||Denison, W. J.|
|Finn, W. F.||Fleetwood, Capt.|
|Fitzgerald, T.||Handley, B.|
|Fitzsimon, C.||Ossulston, Viscount|
|Hayes, Sir E.||Tynte, C. K. K.|
|Lalor, P.||Ingilby, Sir W.|
|Maxwell, J. H.||Hume, J.|