§ Mr. Cobbett
rose to offer to the House, with very great submission to its better judgment, a Motion, in the following words—"That from and after the 5th October next, all Duties on Malt shall cease and determine." To make such a proposition without reasons given, would be very presumptuous in any man, but to state all the reasons would require more time than he was in the habit of consuming in that House, and much more time than he should like to consume on the present occasion. He would, therefore, bring his observations into as small a compass as possible. Before he proceeded to state the divers grounds for repealing this tax, it was necessary for him to state something as to the number of the nation which would be affected by the Repeal of the Malt-tax. It had been represented, that the agricultural part of the community was comparatively very small—that it was quite insignificant as contrasted with the manufacturing population. The hon. member for Middlesex had recently said, that this was a nation of manufacturers, 285 and the right hon. member for Manchester (Mr. Poulett Thomson) had stated, that this country was to be the manufactory of the whole world. Thus it would seem, that the agriculturists were a mere trifle in comparison with the rest of the inhabitants of the kingdom. The noble Lord, the member for the West Riding of Yorkshire (Lord Morpeth), had termed those who petitioned for a Repeal of the Cornlaws, the main body of the people. Never had a more gross error been committed—never had a delusion been more widely disseminated. The manufacturers were represented as everything, the agriculturists as nothing. He would show, presently, that the Repeal of the Malt-tax was as important to the towns as to the country; but first he would advert, with more particularity, to the comparative numbers of the agriculturists and manufacturers. The right hon. member for Manchester had said, that the families employed in agriculture were 900,000, and the families employed in trade 1,400,000; but this was a gross, though not a wilful error. It arose out of the mode in which the population returns had been prepared. Every parish was stated to carry on some manufacture or other, yet it was indisputable that there were many parishes where not a soul was so engaged, and in a parish of Hampshire with which he was acquainted, the parson and the doctor were the only persons not employed in agriculture. Yet even they were agriculturists, or depended upon agriculture; for the parson had his tithes, and the doctor was paid by those whose limbs he set to enable them to follow the plough. The fallacy of the returns had misled the country, and the land was looked upon as an insignificant part of the country. The member for Middlesex had said, that England was not only a manufacturing, but a poor country. Let him look into his store-house of knowledge, and show when England had not been a rich country. It was time that such a delusion was dissipated, and one particular parish might be taken as a most apt illustration. The hon. member for Guildford was the owner of a whole parish, or extra-parochial district, and the population return stated, that there were in it twenty-two families engaged in agriculture, and one in manufactures. That hon. Member little suspected, that in Wanborough, he had a manufactory exporting to foreign countries. And what 286 was that manufactory? A manufactory of plough-shares and harrows, and shoes for horses. In fact, the only family not engaged in agriculture was the village smith; and was it not a palpable error to regard that family as not dependent on agriculture? A similar error pervaded all the returns. In every village, there were several tradesmen who were wholly supported by agriculture, who, in the population returns, were set down as engaged in trade. But letting that pass, what was the summary, even according to the gross misrepresentation of the population returns? That there were 1,075,000 male souls of above the age of twenty, chiefly employed in agriculture; and only 320,000 males of above the age of twenty, chiefly employed in manufactures. Upon this showing, it was nearly four to one in point of numbers in favour of agriculture. The question before the House was therefore worthy of its attention, if only on account of the great majority of persons employed upon the land; but those who resided in towns were interested in the Repeal of the Malt-duty, as much as those who only lived in the country. People in towns drank beer, and in a much larger proportion. He allowed, that the Malt-tax did not affect them in the same manner—but as a mere burthen, as a mere weight, it affected people in towns as much as people in the country. People in towns were much more closely connected with agriculture than was generally supposed. The hon. member for Marylebone wished for the Repeal of the Window-tax, in order to relieve his own constituents. Did the hon. member for Marylebone suppose, that the Repeal of the Malt-tax would not have the effect of relieving his constituents? Why, there were resident in London a thousand families, aye, he might say two or three thousand families, who were constantly occupied in making agricultural implements, in making ploughs, in making harrows, in making drills, in making churns, in making presses, in making tubs. Were these not the constituents of the hon. member for Marylebone? Destroy the agricultural interest, and what would become of those families? Why, they would all starve. What were the salesmen of cattle? What were the salesmen of seeds? Were they not inhabitants of towns? What was all Mark-lane? Were not all these persons deeply interested in the prosperity of agri- 287 culture? What folly it was, then, to say, that the people in the towns had nothing to do with the land. The fact was, that the interests of the one party were closely connected with the interests of the other; but if there was one more essential than the other, it was the interest of the land. If the full amount of the Malt-tax were paid into the Exchequer, and if there were no extraordinary expense in the collection of the tax, and no waste of the property of the people occasioned by it in other ways, why, then, if Government wanted the money, it certainly would be wrong to deprive the Government of it. But if he could show, and he was quite prepared to do so, that besides the enormous expense of collection, the tax was in many other respects burthensome and injurious to the people, he thought he should have a right to call upon the House to repeal it. The Stamp-tax, which produced four millions annually, cost only 168,000l. in the collection. But of the whole of the expenses which attended the collection of the Excise, five-sixths were to be ascribed to the collection of the Malt-duty. In fact, the country was paying above a million for collecting about four millions and a-half. But the expense of collection was not all. There was the great evil which attended the monopoly occasioned by the Malt-tax. The House-tax, the Window-tax, and other taxes of that description caused no monopoly. But the Malt-tax led to a most extensive and injurious monopoly. Four millions of quarters of malt, at a duty of 1l. 8s. per quarter, would cost the people only 5,600,000l.; whereas the same quantity, with the cost of collecting the tax, and with the burthens cast upon it in other ways, actually did cost the people 14,400,000l. So that this tax took from the people, took from the landed proprietor, took from the farmer, took from all the consumers of beer, nearly ten millions more than they would have to pay, if there were no Malt-tax. It was not merely the burthen of the tax. He was quite aware, that it was of little consequence what was the nature of a tax, provided it was general and equal in its provision. This was a tax partial in its character; it was a tax on those who brewed beer, and on those who drank beer. But it would be said, that somebody must get the ten millions. His answer was, that the Exchequer did not get it. If it got 288 into the Exchequer, he should not complain; but the Exchequer received only four millions and a half, for what cost the people fourteen millions and a-half. The great maltsters, the great brewers, were the people that got the money. Their capital gave them a monopoly, which they used, not for good purposes, but to beggar the land and all belonging to it. They took this enormous suns from the working classes, and put it into their own pockets. The hon. member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Clay) told them the other day, that malt at Mark-lane was 52s. the quarter. A private dealer could not sell upon such terms. It was only the great monopolists who could afford to sell cheap. While it could be sold at Mark-lane for 52s. the quarter, it cost the small retail dealers 8s. and 9s. the bushel; the great brewers paid only 6s. 3d. the bushel, while the small brewer, 8s. 6d. or 9s. The great maltsters had another considerable advantage. By getting sufficient bondsmen, they were allowed to remain three collections of the duty in arrear, while the small dealer was under the necessity of paying up. The consequence was, that malting had become a complete monopoly in the hands of a few persons. He would appeal to those acquainted with the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk, whether there was more now than one maltster in places where there used to be ten or fifteen. Thus the monopoly was in the hands of a few, to the great injury of the farmer, who was obliged to take whatever they pleased to offer him for his barley. When this question was before the House, upon a former night, the noble Lord (Lord Althorp) said, he questioned whether, if the tax was repealed, the poor would brew their own beer, having been so long out of the habit of doing so. Habit had nothing to do with it. Men changed their morals, their dress, and their manners from habit; but their appetites remained the same; they must eat and drink. Habit could not alter this. One of the witnesses examined before the Committee on the beer-shops concurred so far with the noble Lord as to say, he thought it impossible, even if the law were repealed, that the labourers could brew their own beer; "for," said he, "there are few cottagers who have a house so large as this room (meaning the Committee-room), and they have not coppers or other conveniences, having been so long out of the 289 habit of brewing." This was as much as saving, that labourers lost the habit of liking beer. He might just as well say, that they lost the habit of liking their dinner, and would not cook their bacon. How many would brew a gallon of malt at a time, as they used formerly, if it were not for this tax? It was the wife or daughter who brewed, and not the labourer himself. But then it had been said, that beer could not be brewed in a small quantity. A single gallon of malt would give twelve gallons of good beer; and he had known many persons who had been satisfied with brewing a single gallon of malt at a time. Nor did the operation require any large room or any extensive apparatus. In fact, brewing beer was precisely like making tea. Beer could be brewed with as much ease as tea could be made; and as to utensils, a porridge pot, holding five gallons, formed an excellent boiler, aad a washing tub answered admirably for a mash-tub and a cooler. With such means much better beer could be produced than any with which the public brewer now furnished his customers. The price of time malt was, in fact, the only obstacle to brewing. Mr. Simeon, a Magistrate of Oxfordshire, in his evidence before the Committee, said he caused inquiry to be made by the overseers in fifteen different parishes as to what would be the most effectual means of putting an end to the evils of beer-shops, and the conclusion to which they came with respect to fourteen of these parishes was, that the repeal of time Malt-tax was the only effectual remedy. One witness said, he feared if the tax was repealed, it would be an inducement to the labourers to steal barley. Out of fifty-nine witnesses examined, thirty-three of them said, they knew no more effectual remedy for the evils caused by beer-shops than the repeal of the Malt-tax. Mr. Goodluck, a Magistrate of Berkshire, said, the poor were prevented by this tax from brewing their own beer; and another witness was of opinion, that if the duty were taken off beer, it would diminish tine tendency to drinking spirits. How much more must it tend to diminish the use of spirits if the duty were taken off malt! One of the witnesses said, he was in the habit of laying out a large sum of money to supply his labourers with beer, finding they would not work without it, but would go to the beer-shop and neglect their work. It might be said, why not give the labourers 290 money in the place of beer? It would not be the same thing at all. Farmers could do more with one pound's worth of beer than two pounds paid in money, for they could give the beer at a proper time and place. Men were often employed to mow by the acre. Sometimes a labourer said, "Master Hugh, give us some beer." "No," says he, "but I will give you sixpence." Well, off went the labourer with the sixpence to the beer-shop, and, very probably, did not leave it till he spent more than sixpence, besides neglecting his work. It would be very different if he had the beer in the field. He would go to the hedge where his bottle of beer was, take a drink, and then return to his mowing. The labourer's wife would take care that a part of this money should be saved, and laid up, in order to purchase malt to brew his own beer. This would tend, in a great measure, and the wife would also use her influence, to keep the husband at home at nights, and break him of his habit of frequenting beer-shops and public-houses. This was not all the repeal of the Malt-tax would effect. Its repeal would have also a great effect in restraining young people to dwell with their parents, the not doing of which had so much demoralized and changed the habits of the labouring people. Immorality had increased among that class, because they were not induced to remain in their own houses, but tempted to go out by night and frequent the beer-shops. That was the mischief; and who was there that could imagine ten or twelve young people meeting together by night—he did not say at beer-shops exclusively, but anywhere else—without getting into mischief of some sort or other? In the former state of things the masters and mistresses of farm-houses prevented young people from going abroad of nights. All this had now fallen to the ground, and masters and mistresses had no longer the power to govern the young people they employed. Perhaps it would be difficult to bring back matters to the state in which they stood formerly: farms were larger now than they used to be, and farmers had become gentlemen. But at any rate Parliament ought to do something; it ought to interfere indirectly to try to bring back things to their former state. The great difficulty to come back to this state, the great objection to take servants into farmhouses, arose in a great part from the Malt-tax, since, as long as this tax stood, 291 it would be difficult for farmers to provide beer for their servants, who drank a great deal of it at all times, and particularly in hot weather. Besides, it would be impossible to keep the beer locked up from them; they would get at it some way or other; and this was another objection on the part of upstart farmers to brew their own beer, and to keep house-servants. He did not pretend to say, that the repeal of this tax would remove all the evils under which the country laboured; but still it would be a great benefit to the country generally, and particularly to the agricultural portion of it. It would, at any rate, have one good effect; it would reconcile the people to many things they now bore with very great reluctance. In his opinion the repeal of the Malt-tax would be the greatest benefit to the kingdom that the Government could confer; it would go a great way in reconciling the people to the Government, and it would make them say, that the Reformed Parliament had done good, that they had not been deceived by it, and that its effects would be for the good of the country. If there was any one thing that would make the present Government safer, and fix them firmer in their places, than they were at present, it was the repeal of this odious and obnoxious tax. Another effect of the repeal of this tax would be to increase the peace, comfort, and good morals, of the people. For all these reasons he had taken the liberty of making the present Motion in the broad and comprehensive shape that he proposed, though he confessed, that he put it to the House without having any confidence or hope that it would be adopted. In going into Committee, he thought it best to move for a total repeal of this tax, as he considered, that a partial repeal, even though it should go so far as to take half the duty off, would be of no substantial benefit. All the expenses of collecting the duty would remain, and the maltsters would not reduce their price, so that little or no good would accrue to the consumer. Whenever any indirect Motion of this sort was brought forward, which would only tend to cheat the people and the House, he would oppose it. He would put the question fairly and fully before the House, in order that all those, the farmers of course included, who were now crying aloud against this measure, might know that nothing was to be taken off their burthens, that nothing was to be done for 292 their relief, and that they were to remain in their present state. Besides, these classes would be fully satisfied, by his Motion, that he was determined to do his duty by them, when they saw him bringing this question in a straightforward manner under the notice of the House. The hon. Member concluded by moving his Resolution.
§ Lord Althorp
said, that the question which the hon. member for Oldham now brought forward, had been decided so short a time since, that it could be hardly expected, that the House could adopt such a change of opinion as would be implied if it agreed to the Motion of the hon. Member. The hon. Member had argued, in the first place, that there ought to be no Malt-tax; and one of his arguments was, that it would be better if farmers and their labourers drank their beer in their own houses. There was no doubt of the truth of this, and the House, on this argument, would agree with the hon. Member. Most people would, no doubt, be the better, if the taxes were removed which pressed upon them. But the question the House had to determine was, whether, in the present state of the finances of the country, it was possible to reduce between 4,000,000l. and 5,000,000l. of taxes without finding some proper substitute for so large a deficiency. The hon. member for Oldham had said, on a late occasion, when they were voting the Army Estimates, that after they were carried he could not call on Government for a reduction of taxation. Now, not only the Army but the Navy Estimates had been voted; and if it were the opinion of that House that such establishments were necessary, and he supposed every person thought they were; he considered it utterly impossible to continue them, and provide for them, if the hon. Member's present Motion should be assented to. He completely agreed with the hon. Member, that a partial repeal of the Malt-tax would not be beneficial, and that no good could be expected save from its total repeal. But it must be clear to the hon. Member,—and it was admitted by the whole House,—that the actual state of the finances of the country would not admit of a total repeal of the Malt-tax. The hon. Member contended that the repeal of this tax would be beneficial to the inhabitants of towns as well as to persons residing in the country. He believed, that 293 it would affect both classes nearly in the same way, since he considered that even the agriculturists would gain only as consumers by the repeal of this tax. But the main question, he repeated, was, whether the present state of the finances would allow the reduction of any such amount of taxation as was now proposed without a substitute? In the former debate upon this question substitutes were proposed, but they were impracticable. On the present occasion the hon. Member had not even hinted at a substitute for the amount of taxation which he wished to have repealed. The fact, therefore, was, that if the House consented to the present Resolution, it would consent to nothing more nor less than a total derangement of every financial measure of the Government, and in such a case, of course, it would be impossible to carry on the administration of the affairs of the country. He did not mean to follow the hon. Member through all his arguments. On the chief question, whether a tax on malt was good, he would say decidedly it was not, because, in his opinion, reasoning in the abstract, no tax on any commodity generally consumed could be in itself good. He was aware that this tax pressed on the farmers, but, as he said before, it only pressed on them as consumers. He believed, that brewing beer in their own houses would be an advantage to them. However, he was not of opinion, that the repeal of this tax would make the agricultural labourer brew his own beer. He said this, not because he thought the labourer's habits could not be changed, but because he firmly believed, that no change in the law could enable the labourer to brew his own beer at a cheaper rate than he could purchase it at. The hon. Member might shake his head in token of dissent, but such was his (Lord Althorp's) opinion. These were his views of the question, and he was afraid, that no alteration they could now make in this law would bring back among the farmers and labourers that state of society the hon. Member had so frequently alluded to. He used the word afraid, not that he considered that state of society so very desirable, but because he considered that the time was gone by for that state. If, at any time, there had been a chance, the difficulty, present, was far greater than ever it was. He would oppose the Motion, and he could not help expressing 294 his sorrow at seeing the hon. Member coming forward with his Motion so soon after the question had been discussed and decided.
said, it was unnecessary for him to dilate on a question that had been so recently discussed. If he could move an Amendment, he would propose, that from and after the 5th of April, 1835, half of the present duties on malt should be repealed. He could not, however, move an Amendment. He had been for many years an advocate for the repeal of these duties; but he thought the time was now come when they ought to take what they could obtain. The hon. member for Bridport (Mr. Warburton) had on a former occasion accused the agriculturists of wishing to put their hands into the pockets of the manufacturers; butt this was not surely the case, since the landed proprietors had been as forward as any in recommending the repeal of the tax on beer. The noble Lord said, no substitute had been proposed for this tax. He did not mean to go the length of the hon. Baronet (Sir William Ingilby), and tax persons going to gambling-houses, but he thought that a 1,000,000l. might be raised by a tax upon lotteries. It was useless to say that lotteries were put a stop to; they were still continued; and a tax upon such gambling transactions would be better than a tax upon private gambling. He considered, that the duty on gin might be raised without any detriment to the revenue. He had another idea which was not exactly his own, but that of Mr. Miller, a solicitor, of London, by which a substitute for the Malt-tax might be obtained; he meant an equalization of the Land-tax. By such a measure, between 3,000,000l. and 4,000,000l. a-year might be raised. He threw out this only as a suggestion for the consideration of the noble Lord, not, perhaps, that it ought to be recommended, but it certainly might be a substitute for the tax proposed to be repealed. As he could not move his Amendment, he hoped the hon. member for Oldham would withdraw his Motion; but if the hon. Member chose to divide the House on the question, and though the result of that division should be that they world be left in a minority of six, still for the sake of consistency, he would support the hon. Member's Motion.
§ Sir William Ingilby
thought, they ought to bring the question once more to an 295 issue. It might be very well for hon. Members to do as they did the other night—turn his address upon the subject into ridicule. They now had the question placed before them in a very different manner; they had now heard it discussed by one of the ablest men in the King's dominions; than whom no man was better qualified to discuss all such matters, particularly the question before them. He, of course, meant the hon. member for Oldham. They now saw the question in a double light; they had seen it the other evening in a burlesque light; but now they saw it in a very different point of view. So much the better for their judgment. The noble Lord opposite had called upon him last year for a substitute for this tax. The consequence of this call was, that he had been driven into a corner and forced to produce his memorable budget. On all sides had he been called upon for a measure to supply the deficiency to the revenue that would be caused by the repeal of the Malt-tax. He had mentioned several very good substitutes. He really believed, that a tax upon gin, which was now overflowing the country, would supply the deficiency. Though it might be very well for hon. Members to turn his budget into ridicule, he really could not see anything so preposterous in it. He sincerely hoped that this tax, which fell so heavily on the people, would be done away with. He had been laughed at and accused of buffoonery; but he thought that the hon. Members who on that side of the House voted for the Motion of the Marquess of Chandos and against his, though both Motions were equally for the benefit of the agriculturist, were guilty of greater buffoonery than he. What! was it not buffoonery to vote one way one night, and another way another night? A Motion brought forward by a noble Marquess was treated with respect, whilst hon. Members thought they might be inconsistent and shift their votes on a Motion that was put forward by a Radical. For his own part he hoped the day would come when Members of that House would vote without reference to any party for Motions according to their real good, and not with reference to the mover of them being a Marquess or a Radical. He would vote for the present Motion, as he would for every one that went to relieve his Majesty's subjects from the burthen of taxation. He had not the other night produced his 296 budget of his own accord; and if he had assumed the office and played the part of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he begged the House to reflect that he did so by particular desire. He did not intend to take office any more. He had assumed it once. He had discharged the duties of it in a rational way, and he was glad to see the hon. Member who had last spoken approving of part of his budget, by advocating a tax upon gin. The tax upon malt was a bad one; it tended to brutalize the country; it was the cause of making the country overflow with gin; and he therefore hoped that the hon. member for Oldham would divide the House on the present question, in order that it might be seen who were the real friends of the agriculturists.
§ Mr. Childers
said, that as he represented a large agricultural county, he was not willing to give a silent vote on the present subject. He did not believe, that a repeal of the Malt-tax would do anything like the good that some persons said it would, and that it would not increase the consumption of barley. The hon. Member read a numerical statement in order to prove, that in certain years when the duty on malt was reduced, its consumption had not increased, but, on the contrary, that in some instances it had been diminished by a third. The poor would not be relieved to anything like the extent supposed, because they would not brew their own beer. He was satisfied that there was as little chance of the poorer classes in the agricultural districts returning to the practice of brewing their own beer, as there was of their knitting their own stockings. The hon. Member quoted from the evidence of Mr. Thurnall given before the Committee on the Beer Bill, to show that it was not practicable for the labourers to brew their own beer. It was proved, that a beer-shopkeeper could never enter into competition with the great beer brewer. Hence he inferred, that as the private brewer brewed for his own use a much less quantity of beer than the beer-shopkeeper, it would never be worth the private or home-brewer's while to brew at all. The question having already been disposed of by so large a majority, in favour of maintaining the tax, he could see no just reason that had been brought forward why the Legislature should be called on again to interfere, and should, therefore, vote against the Motion.
§ Mr. Cutlar Fergusson
, though one of the agricultural class, and a friend to its interests and prosperity, would, nevertheless, vote against the Motion of the hon. member for Oldham. Hon. Members talked of being consistent in their votes, but he, for one, preferred to vote in consistency with his judgment; and, therefore, could not consent to repeal the Malt-tax till the means were devised of making good the deficiency to the revenue. He doubted not the hon. member for Oldham could find immediate means to dispense with that tax in a reduction of the interest of the National Debt. [Mr. Thomas Attwood: And why not?] Why not? simply that it would shake the national confidence. There were only two means of providing a substitute—the one already referred to, and the other having recourse to a Property-tax. He, for one, would most strenuously oppose any such tax—one which was of the most odious and inquisitorial character; and being of this opinion, he would not support the Motion of the hon. member for Oldham, though he could not but admire the talent with which he had introduced the subject to the House.
§ Mr. Sinclair
said, that as the hon. member for Oldham had intimated his determination to press this Motion to a division, he intended, as a volunteer, to go out in the forlorn hope, in order to show how anxious he was to relieve the landowners and farmers of this country from their distressing, if not desperate, condition. Two more years of the present low prices and heavy burthens would, in his opinion, complete the ruin of the agricultural interest, and consequently entail incalculable mischief upon the community. He had listened with great pleasure to the very able and lucid speech of the hon. Mover, who, in the graphic delineations of rural habits, and in just appreciations of the feeling of the working classes, exceeded all his contemporaries. He (Mr. Sinclair) rejoiced to find that hon. Gentleman assigning a due place to the landed proprietors and tenantry in the scale of relative importance. By many other persons they had been greatly undervalued, and their sufferings treated with indifference; but the sound reasoning of the hon. member for Oldham, and the facts by which his own experience and intimate acquaintance with the peasantry enabled him to illustrate all his assertions, were entitled to, and would meet with, far greater atten- 298 tion throughout the country, than all the more recondite speculations of our political metaphysicians. He was the more at liberty to support this Motion, because he was quite prepared to vote for a Property or Income-tax, as the only impost which would reach the fundholder, the mortgagee, and those who squandered their British incomes in foreign capitals, none of whom contributed in anything like a due proportion to the public exigences of the State, or the local burthens of the country.
Mr. Mark Philips
said, he voted last year in favour of the Motion of the hon. member for Lincolnshire, for the partial repeal of the Malt-tax, and he did so in perfect consistency with the vote he had previously given in favour of the Motion of the hon. member for Worcester, calling upon the House to appoint a Select Committee to take into consideration the propriety of establishing a Property-tax. He maintained, therefore, the integrity of the vote he had given in favour of the establishment of a Property-tax, feeling, at the same time, the importance of the relief which the removal of the Malt-tax would afford, both to the consumer and the agriculturist; but when he came to analyse the division which took place on the Motion for the repeal of the Malt-tax, he found that, out of sixty-six county Members who supported that Motion, there were only twenty-four of the same Members who were prepared to give the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, an equivalent in return, by supporting the Motion of the hon. member for Worcester. Under these circumstances, he felt it impossible, as the Representative of a great mercantile community, distinguished as that community always had been by the honour of its transactions between man and man, and the maintenance of private credit, and anxious as they were, and always would be, equally with himself, to maintain the public faith, he could not feel justified in supporting the Motion of the hon. member for Oldham. He was anxious to see the tax in question repealed, but he had not confidence in the feelings of the House, after the example of last Session, and was afraid, should he vote to give up the Malt-duty, that few of the Members would be in favour of a Property-tax, or a substantial equivalent for the remission of so large a mass of taxation. He deplored the present state of agricultural distress; but he thought 299 that those who were so strenuously opposed to the alteration in the Corn-laws, whilst they spoke of manufacturing prosperity, might read in that prosperity, which was, perhaps, only the revival from a long period of stagnation, the evidence that with the necessaries of life at a low price, as one of the causes of that prosperity, a permanent reduction in those prices was well calculated to maintain a permanent, instead of a temporary, prosperity. With an earnest desire, therefore, for the permanent welfare of both the agricultural and manufacturing interests, which were inseparably united, the home trade being that on which manufacturers set the most value—with a desire to see a cheap loaf on the table of every working man, which he considered the great necessary of life—and anxious, further, that after a supply of good and cheap bread, there should be a supply of equally good and cheap beer placed within the reach of the humblest classes; he was favourable to the remission of the tax, although restrained from voting for it by the considerations he had named. The repeal of every duty on raw materials, he begged to assure the landed interest, on which the industry of the country relied for employment in its conversion into manufactured articles, was an object for their first consideration, as it was impossible to improve the condition of the manufacturer without rendering him a better customer for the produce of their estates.
Mr. John Maxwell
did not rise to advocate the interests of the landowners and farmers, but, as the friend of the poor. He had, in common with many others, much regretted to find the noble Lord was rather disposed to extend relief from taxation to the fundholder, the stockjobber, and men who had large houses in and near the metropolis, through the medium of his House-tax, than to the agriculturists, who had proved their allegation of distress and discouragement before a Committee of that House. He should act on this occasion as he had on other similar occasions when voting with the hon. member for Middlesex, he had formed one of a very small minority. He had then voted conscientiously, and he had the happiness to find since, that that small minority had influenced the House so far that the majority had embraced the same opinion, and redeemed itself in public opinion. Things would not retrograde in the present 300 temper of society, and satisfied he was, that, however small the minority might be who voted for the Motion, the noble Lord would find the day was not far distant when their opinion would become the opinion of time House.
§ Mr. Thomas Attwood
was not prone to feel despondingly as to time number of the minority with which he should vote. He had reasons to believe it would not be so contemptible in number, and certainly not as respected the influence or weight of character of the hon. Members who would be found in the same ranks with himself, supporting the Motion of the hon. member for Oldham. He was not for breaking faith with any class of his fellow-subjects. No man looked with more heartfelt hatred on all and any attempts made to break faith with the public. He could have wished the hon. member for Kirkcudbright would have embraced within the sphere of his anxiety to prevent breaches of public faith the embarrassed landowner, the ruined farmer, the beggared labourer on his farm. It was absurd to hear a party in that House talk of their anxiety to keep the public faith. It was but a bastard faith they kept to a certain mass of metal, whilst they broke faith to the living masses of men, their families, and their hopes. He would fearlessly ask the right hon. Baronet (Sir James Graham) whether he did not himself know, that the farmer, the landowner, and he might almost have added, many classes of mere agricultural labourers, had lost three-fourths of their income or wages of their labour by the great alterations or the gradual reduction of remunerating prices for their property or for their labour upon the land? The House had borne a very culpable part in one of the greatest and most crying cruelties and fraud that this or any other country had ever witnessed; and it was high time it should make some reparation to those classes for their delusion, to call it by no harsher name. He only wished that a little of the same unpalatable medicine which the agricultural classes had been drenched with should be in fairness given to the rest. He had hoped the noble Lord who had a heart beating in his bosom, and a sound head he believed, too, would before this have found out, that the time was come when these things must be altered. He wished to put the landlord, the farmer, and the labourer 301 upon war-rents, war-prices, and war-wages, making all content if possible. Whilst they went on in their present system of delusion, this could never be. Nobody now was content but the fund-holder, and those on the Pension-list. He would just explain how these duties on malt operated on the consumer, which, in the whole, were said to produce only five millions sterling; and yet he would assert, without fear of contradiction, that they cost the public not less than twice that sum, or 10,000,000l. sterling, including the cost of its collection. For every bushel of malt he used he paid 8s. 6d. How was this made up? First, by 3s. 6d. for the raw Material; 2s. 7½d. for the duty; then a bushel ought to be had tax and all, for 6s. 1½d. But, no; there was another tax to be levied on him, which was that tax resulting from monopoly. Monopoly demanded 2s. 4½d. more. And so it would ever be; and thus the poor man must pay 300 per cent upon the real value of the article he used as a necessary for the purpose of supporting a false and a fallacious system of finance. If the duties were taken off a gigantic burthen would be thrown off the shoulders of our poor; 5s. would, at the utmost, be the price of a bushel of malt. The people would obtain 3s. 6d. a bushel relief, out of which, perhaps, the farmer would get 1s. 6d. towards paying that excessive high rent, which the noble Lord, by his hocus-pocus had now turned into a solid gold rent. Let him not tread thus down the farmer, the labourer, and all connected with this class. Could he have thus treated the other classes, and given, for instance, the soldier only 3d. a day? Let his policy, as a finance Minister, be broad and comprehensive. The discontented labourers might go on burning all the ricks in the country, and nothing would ever stop them whilst they managed the finance thus. Give the labourers wages equal to their wants, which had been falling for years from the war prices. "But (said the noble Lord) if I give up these five millions, how can I go on?" No one expected, at least he did not, that the noble Lord should go on. But how was it possible the landed interest should go on which was thus, district by district, swept off by the besom of bankruptcy and destruction? For his part he could not wonder if, when the noble Lord got into 302 the same bed with his victims, he would be restless on his pillow, for the noble Lord could not be insensible to the misery which the present system of taxation produced to millions of people throughout the country. He should feel it to be his duty to give his support to the Motion of his hon. friend the member for Oldham.
Mr. Secretary Stanley
did not rise to enter into the discussion, but to entreat the House to show something like respect for their own proceedings. He trusted, that they would put an end to this most useless discussion, in which every topic was touched upon but that which really bore upon the question which they were called upon to consider, the expediency of repealing the Malt-tax. He would not follow the hon. member for Birmingham through the lamentations which he had expressed with respect to the restlessness of his (Mr. Stanley's) noble friend's pillow, and his sleeping in the bed with his victims; nor would he trouble the House with any observations upon war-rents, paper currency, and the other results of war which the hon. Member was so fond of dilating upon. He would, however, call the attention of the House to the position in which they stood with regard to this very question. They should bear in mind, that it was fully discussed no longer than a fortnight ago, and that they then determined, by the vote to which they came, that it would be utterly impossible for the Government to go on if it were deprived of so large a portion of revenue as that which the Malt-tax produced. But what was it that they were now called upon to do? Why, to reverse their former decision, and declare, that the repeal of the Malt-tax would be expedient, although it was not proposed that any other tax should be substituted in its stead. The question, he repeated, had already been settled; and if they were now to take the step they were called upon to take, the effect would be to derange the whole of the agricultural, manufacturing, and commercial interests of the country. The hon. Member would allow the Government to "make bricks," although he would deprive them of the straw necessary for the purpose. But, he would ask, whether the House of Commons would deal so unjustly with his Majesty's Ministers as to require them to carry on the business of the Government, and yet deny them the means of doing so? Without a re- 303 venue the Government could not be carried on, and, therefore, instead of going into the consideration of the repeal of the Malt-tax, the only question they had to consider was, whether they should not proceed to the Order of the Day for considering the Ordnance Estimates? Hon. Members must be sensible that to vote in favour of the Motion of the hon. member for Oldham could lead to no practical result. [An Hon. Member: It might lead to the imposition of a Property-tax.] It was all very well to talk of a Property-tax, but was it any more than reasonable, on the part of the Government, to say, "Carry your Property-tax first, and then take off the Malt-tax if you please?" Now, what was it that the Government were called upon to do? In one breath they were told they ought to take away a tax which produced a revenue of 5,000,000l., while, in the other, the necessity of keeping up an efficient establishment was pressed upon their attention. Without a revenue equal to the present, the business of the State could not be carried on; and, therefore, he entreated them as men of business, to dismiss a discussion, in every point of view, so useless, and go at once to that which really formed the proper business of the day.
§ Mr. Robinson
, adverting to what took place relative to the Malt-tax, last Session, must say, that it was his opinion, that if hon. Gentlemen could see their way clearly, they would require little inducement to vote for the entire abolition of the Malt-tax. No matter how this tax was considered, it was alike onerous and injurious; but still he was not prepared to call upon the Government to sacrifice so large an amount of the revenue without furnishing an adequate substitute for it. It was, no doubt, the desire of the House to relieve the country of this particular burthen, if it could be done with safety to the public service. He thought it could be done, without the least risk, knowing, as he did, that all the difficulties under which the country laboured arose from the injudicious alterations which had been made from time to time in the currency. He was clearly of opinion, that there was one, and one only, remedy by which the country could be extricated from its present difficulties; but, then, that was a remedy the House was indisposed to adopt. The remedy to which he referred, it was his intention, on a future day, to submit 304 to the consideration of the House. His proposition would affect all classes of the community in an equal degree, without giving one description of property an advantage over another. It would apply as well to the fundholder as to the possessors of property of any other kind. The wealth of the country should be made to bear those burthens which it ought to sustain; and until that course was taken, it would be impossible for any Government to comply with the wishes of the people, or to repeal those taxes which were obviously unjust, and productive of much mischief. The substitution of a Property-tax for the present system of taxation was the only means by which substantial relief could be afforded to the country, and that was the proposition which he meant to bring forward.
§ Mr. Cumming Bruce
had no wish to prolong the Debate, but was anxious merely to state to the House a few facts, which would show, that the agricultural interests of that part of the kingdom with which he was connected were now under great depression from the operation of the present system of taxation. In the first place, however, he must call the attention of the House to the comparison of the average prices of wheat now and at former periods; and he had taken the average price at present obtained in counties in the southern districts, as well as in the northern counties of Scotland. From the years 1829 to 1833, the lowest average was 51s. 3d. per quarter; and from 1797 to 1801, the average price was 47s. 1d. At present the average prices fixed in February last, in the county of Stirling, where there existed all the advantages of a ready market, and of a great manufacturing population, the average prices of agricultural produce were as follow:—Wheat, 46s. 5d.; barley, 25s. 4d.; and oats, 16s. 8d. At the same period, in a northern county—the county of Moray—the average prices were, wheat, 43s. 5d.; barley, 25s.; and oats, 15s. 10d.; and in the county of Banff, wheat, 37s.; barley, 23s.; and oats, 15s. per quarter. Now, he must remind the House, that it had been stated before the Agricultural Committee of last year by one witness, Mr. Low, that unless the farmer in Scotland could realise in the market 58s. per quarter for his wheat, 32s. for his barley, and 24s. for his oats, he would be unable to meet his engagements without sacrificing 305 all the profits which ought to appertain to him, for his skill, industry, and capital. The Committee which had been acquiesced in last year by the noble Lord opposite, had, by their Report, shown the state of the existing distress amongst the agricultural interests, and had pointed out some measures of relief; yet a modification of the Poor-laws, and other remedies suggested, would not afford any relief to the agriculturist north of the Tweed, neither would any alteration of the Tithe-law affect the distress then consequent upon the low prices obtained for agricultural produce. In Scotland, all collision between the occupying tenants and the clergy had been avoided, but, though no outcry had been raised, the former had to contribute to the Church, though in a different shape, all that was paid by tenants occupying lands in England. The Scotch agriculturists had used great efforts, and with success, to improve the lands, but their condition was now daily becoming more distressing, and they were more and more unable to maintain a respectable and useful position in society, and the lands were passing into the hands of attorneys, money-lenders, and legal craftsmen—a change than which none more injurious could be conceived. He was not prepared, however, to break the national faith, and sacrifice the provision for the exigences of the State, and, therefore, he could not vote for the Motion of the hon. member for Oldham, but he would take the liberty of suggesting to the noble Lord opposite (Althorp) a means by which a partial relief could be afforded, without, to any considerable degree, affecting the revenue. The suggestion was contained in a memorial signed by the malt-distillers of the Inverness collection, and those memorialists recommended as a very essential amendment, the repeal of the Malt-duty, and the substitution of a Spirit-duty, which they were willing to increase to 3s. 11½d. or to even 4s. per gallon. Now, as the modification of the Poor-laws, or the proposed alteration in the tithe system, could not affect the agricultural distress in Scotland or Ireland, his proposition was, that the noble Lord opposite should separate the question of the Malt-duties with reference to those two countries, from the question as affecting England. It appeared that during the last year, the duty on malt paid in Scotland was 523,539l, 1s, 6d.; and, in Ireland, the 306 amount paid was 246,347l. 4s. 9d.; making a total amount of duty paid in those countries, upon 707,975 quarters, of 769,886l. Now the malt-distillers suggested the substitution of an increased duty on spirits of 6d. He would accede to an increase of 8d. per gallon. The total number of gallons distilled in Scotland in the course of last year, was 7,979,000, and in Ireland, upwards of 9,200,000; thus making together a total of 17,259,958 gallons. Upon this, the increase of duty would realize to the revenue upwards of 600,000l., and, therefore, all that the noble Lord would, by the adoption of the proposition, be called upon to give up to the distressed agriculturists of Ireland and Scotland, would be, about 169,000l. By this arrangement the resources of the noble Lord would not be much trenched upon, while a great boon would be extended to both countries. He should not vote for the Motion of the hon. member for Oldham, but he had felt it his duty to call the attention of the House and the Government to these facts, with a view to redress the grievances and burthens by which the agriculturists of Scotland were oppressed and borne down.
§ The House divided on Mr. Cobbett's Motion—Ayes 59; Noes 142: Majority 83.
|List of the AYES.|
|Adams, E. H.||Pigot, N.|
|Aglionby, H. A.||Plumptre, J. P.|
|Astley, Sir J.||Rickford, W.|
|Attwood, T.||Robinson, G. R.|
|Barnard, J. G.||Shawe, R. N.|
|Bell, M.||Simeon, Sir R.|
|Bowes, J.||Trelawney, W. L. S.|
|Buckingham, J. S.||Trevor, Hon. R.|
|Burton, H.||Tyrell, Sir J.|
|Chandos, Marquess of||Tyrell, C.|
|Chaplin, Colonel||Vincent, Sir F.|
|Clayton, Colonel W. R.||Walter, J.|
|Crawley, S.||Wason, R.|
|Curteis, Captain||Watkins, L.|
|Faithfull, G.||Wigney, I. N.|
|Fancourt, Major||Wilks, J.|
|Fielden, J.||Winnington, H.|
|Folkes, Sir W.||Ferguson, Captain|
|Gaskell, D.||Maxwell, Sir J.|
|Hume, J.||Oswald, R. A.|
|Ingilby, Sir W.||Sinclair, G.|
|James, W.||Wallace, R.|
|Leech, J.||Jacob, E.|
|Lennard, Sir T.||O'Connell, M.|
|Lister, E. C.||O'Connell, M. J.|
|Mills, W.||O'Connell, J.|
|Ruthven, E. S.||PAIRED OFF.|
|Ruthven, E.||Goring, H. D.|
|Sheil, R. L.||Handley, Henry|
|TELLERS.||Troubridge, Sir T.|
|Cobbett, W.||Tynte, C. J. K.|
|Curteis, H. B.|
§ Question again put, that the Speaker leave the Chair.