HC Deb 14 June 1841 vol 58 cc1494-8
The Chancellor of the Exchequer

having brought up the report of the committee on the Appropriation Bill,

Mr. Hume

wished to offer one or two observations in regard to what he had asserted the other evening, that, under the Corn-laws as they at present existed, the agricultural interest levied from the community a greater sum than the whole amount of the taxes paid to the State. He wished to show that his assertion was not of so vague a nature as it was represented to be by the right hon. Member for the University of Cambridge. He had stated that he considered the landed proprietors of England to be in a much more favoured condition than the landed proprietors of any other part of the world, and he was prepared to prove, that while the landed proprietors of this country were almost free from taxation, those of France paid nearly forty per cent, of the whole revenue of that country. He stated this on the authority of a statement of M. Humann, minister of finance—a statement which he considered unanswerable, and which had never been contradicted. In Belgium he found that the land-tax was 22 per cent., and in Holland 25 per cent, of the whole revenue of the state. He had stated that England was in the same situation in which France was in 1789, when the nobility were exempted from taxation, and when the whole revenue was levied from the working classes. He repeated, that the people of England were now in the same situation in which the people of France were at that period, and that while they paid the greater part of the revenue, the landed proprietors paid no portion of the revenue whatever —the amount they received in the shape of protective duties being considerably more than the taxes which they were called on to pay. The landed interest in this country, consisting principally of the aristocracy, he thought sufficiently showed that it was for the benefit of the aristocracy alone that the Corn-laws were maintained. They enjoyed in addition a large portion of the twenty millions paid to the army and navy; and the journals of the House proved that every possible burden bearing on the land of the country had been removed by acts of Parliament. He had in his hand a list of taxes formerly levied on the whole of the community, but which, since 1816, had been gradually taken off the land while they were suffered to remain on the community at large. Taxes on husbandry, agricultural servants, horses, and so forth, had been repealed. The statement in his hand showed that 130,000 farmhouses were exempt from all taxes whatever, while taxes on houses were continued. The paper he had in his hand also showed that there was no less a sum than 983,000l. annual taxation which was formerly borne by the land, and which it did not now pay, but which other portions of the community still continued to pay. It was an attempt to delude the community to say that there were burdens on the land which the community did not bear. He would refer to the evidence before the committee in 1835, on the distress which existed at that time in the agricultural districts; and he thought he could satisfy the House how completely the landed proprietors in both Houses had passed laws to favour property; and he would tell the noble Lord, the Secretary for the Colonies, that when he proposed to give 8s. protection to the landed proprietor for every quarter of wheat, he was imposing a tax of the most onerous nature, and one which the landowners were not entitled to. Now, he begged the attention of the House to the evidence given before the committee on agricultural distress, which sat in 1835:— Mr. John Rolfe, a farmer and appraiser of farming stock, renting from 200 to 300 acres, in the county of Bucks, was asked, ' Is there any other tax than the malt tax, which presses immoderately upon the farmer?—No, except the assessed taxes. I pay for my riding horse 1l. 8s. 9d., and for my groom, 1l. No tax but the window tax presses on the farmer, and I pay for that 4l. a year. There is a county rate, the removal of which would amount to something, but not a great deal. Is there any other tax that presses on the farmer?—No direct tax that I know of.' Mr. Henry Morton was asked, What do you pay for your assessed taxes? —A mere nothing; our direct taxes are very small. I do not pay on all the land I hold above 10l. He (Mr. Hume) agreed with the hon. Gentleman, that if the landowners were burdened with any tax that other classes of the community were not subject to, protection should be afforded to them to that extent, but he saw that they were not, while up to the present time upwards of 20,000,000l. had been repealed for the benefit of agriculture. He would proceed to state some of the burdens to which personal property was subject, but from which landed property was exempt. In 1798 Mr. Pitt had brought in two bills, the one for raising a revenue from the descent of landed property, the other for raising a revenue from the descent of personal property. The latter bill passed into a law; the former one was rejected on the third reading, and up to the present hour, personal property had continued liable to the tax. Since the act had passed, personal property had paid altogether 60,108,084l. 16s. 8d. to that tax, while landed property was entirely exempt from any such charge. Now this relief from direct taxation was a point which hon. Gentlemen who wished to continue to tax the food of the community, ought fairly to consider. Then, besides this relief from direct taxation, the landed interest had had, through the weakness of the ministry in yielding to the country gentlemen, upwards of 80,000l. annually paid to them in aid of county rates, which amounted altogether to nearly 500,000l. Besides this, the landed proprietors had, during the last four years, received every year, in consequence of the rise in the price of corn, and other articles of food, a tax exceeding 50,000,000l. sterling, being more than the whole amount paid towards the wants of the state. It was useless to deny that the landed interest received 50,000,000l. per annum from the taxes on food. In the evidence taken before the import duties committee, Mr. Macgregor stated That there were import duties on the following articles:—malt; beef and pork, fresh or slightly cured; lamb and mutton; cattle, sheep, and swine. High duties are levied on the following articles, to protect British agricultural and grazing interests:—tongues, 3d. each; bacon, 28s. per cwt.; pork, salted, 12s. per cwt.; sausages, 4d. per lb.; potatoes, 2d. per lb.; beer and mum, 3l. 1s, 1d., or about 21s. per gallon; ale, other than mum, 2l. 13s.; beans, kidney or French, l0d. per bushel; fruits various duties; cider, 21l. 10s. per tun; hay, 24s. per load of 36 trusses; lard, 8s. per cwt.; onions, 3s. per bushel; lentils, l0d. per bushel; pearl barley, 17s. 6d. per cwt.; mustard and carraway, and many other seeds. The witness was then asked, Have you ever heard any estimate of that kind with respect to bread or flour? With respect to bread and flour, the difference which the labourer pays in money is from forty to eighty per cent more than the foreign consumer. Taking the gross amount of revenue paid into the Treasury at 50,000,000l, a year, have you been able to form an opinion what proportion this additional taxation on the food of the country would be?—I consider that the taxation imposed upon the country upon the production of wealth, through labour and ingenuity, by our duty on corn, and the provision duties and prohibitions, are far greater, probably much more than double the amount of taxation paid into the Treasury. Another witness, Mr. Deacon Hume, was asked, You are of opinion, that all those protective duties are, in fact, a direct tax upon the community, by raising the price of every one of those articles to the consumer?—Most decidedly. I cannot analyse the charge which I pay in any other way, than that part of it is the prices of the commodity, and part is a duty, though it goes out of my private pocket, into another private pocket, instead of into that of the public. Have you ever made a calculation as to the amount of taxation which the community pay in consequence of the increased price of wheat and butchers' meat, which is occasioned by the monopoly now held by land?—I think that a tolerable calculation may be made of that increased charge. It is generally calculated that each person, upon the average, consumes a quarter of wheat a year. Assuming, then, the amount of duty that this wheat paid, or the price enhanced by protection, whatever that is, as far as bread goes, to be 10s., it would be that amount upon the whole population. Then you could hardly say less than, perhaps, double that for butchers' meat and other matters; so that if we were to say, that the corn is enhanced by 10s. a quarter, there would be that 10s. and 20s. more as the increase of the price of meat, and other agricultural productions, including hay and oats for horses, barley for beer, as well as butter and cheese. That would be 36,000,000l. a year, and the public are in fact paying that as effectually out of their pockets, as if it did go to the revenue in the form of direct taxes. The House would see, from this statement, that the estimate which he had given was extremely low. He considered that it was impossible for the House longer to persist in maintaining such a state of things, when they saw the misery and distress existing at this moment in every part of the country. He had statements from Birmingham, Bolton, and other places, which he would submit to the House to-morrow, when he intended to enter into the subject at greater length. Before they persisted in refusing to admit an amelioration, he begged them to understand what were likely to be the consequences, and not to throw away the examples which history furnished of countries driven to desperation by famine and want. These were the grounds upon which he considered they had been defrauded of the opportunity of discussing the question of Corn-laws by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth's majority of one in the recent vote of want of confidence. If the right hon. Baronet had not introduced that motion, they would have had the question of the Corn-laws properly discussed. If the right hon. Gentleman had been candid, as he (Mr. Hume) expected he would have been, he would have stated the course he intended to pursue with respect to the Corn-laws.

Mr. G. Palmer

thought that it was not only the height of impropriety to delude the people on a question like the present, but that it was wicked in the extreme, and the statement of the hon. Gentleman that the landed interest bore no share in the taxation of the country was a statement which would only tend to delude the public. The land-tax, the poor-rates, and tithes, all which were borne by the landed interest, did not amount to less than 50 per cent of the whole revenue.

Report received, and the Bill ordered to be engrossed.