HC Deb 21 March 1844 vol 73 cc1356-60
Mr. Ewart

rose to move the following Resolutions:— That it is indispensable to the maintenance and extension of the Trade of this country, that those duties be repealed which press on the raw materials of manufacture, especially the raw materials of the woollen and cotton trade. That it is expedient also that those Duties be greatly reduced which press on articles of interchange in return for our manufactures, especially such articles of interchange as, at the same time, concern the subsistence of the people; being (besides corn, which is the subject of superior and separate consideration) such articles as tea, sugar, coffee, bacon, butter, and cheese. That it is expedient that those Duties also be greatly reduced which, by their amount, encourage smuggling; being at once injurious to the revenue and dangerous to the morality of the country; such as the Duties on tobacco, silk goods, and foreign spirits. That whatever temporary deficiency of revenue be caused by such reduction, ought, until the revenue regain its former amount, to be sustained by the property, and not by the trade and labour of the country. He conceived that there were many advantages attending the bringing forward and promoting the discussion of commercial measures of a general nature. Public opinion on such occasions cast its shadow before, and that which an individual Member of the House advocated as expressive of public opinion might hereafter become the subject of Parliamentary legislation. It was with that conviction that he brought forward his Motion. He asked the House to consent to the proposition of removing duties which pressed upon the raw mate- rial of manufactures. In doing so, he asked them to sanction a principle already introduced by the right hon. Gentleman, the First Lord of the Treasury, but he asked them to carry it further. It was generally admitted to be impolitic to tax the raw elements of our manufactures, but if there be any time at which it was most impolitic, it was in a time of peace, and at the same time of national difficulty. Our cotton manufacturers had to resist a competition almost unexampled in the annals of the trade. Whether we looked to America, to Germany, or to France, we found that our manufacturing prosperity was in danger; and he therefore thought, that even on that ground alone, the House was bound to reduce the duties on the raw material of manufactures. He maintained, however, that such a step was particularly politic in time of peace, because then prices necessarily became low; and, in proportion as the prices of raw material fell, the proportion of duty to the cost price of production increased. Low-priced cotton was also extensively used, to the duties upon which the same argument would apply. Much of the wool also used now was low-priced wool, coming from the banks of the Plate. A similar sort of wool was also imported from the Mediterranean; and as such commodities came to be more generally in use, the duty upon them was more severely felt than when it fell upon the high-priced German wool. The consequence was, that the wools of South America and the Mediterranean were generally exported, to be manufactured in other countries, and thus to enrich foreign manufacturers. He conceived, then, that he had good reason for calling upon them to repeal the duties affecting the raw materials of manufactures, This was the first part of his proposition, and he maintained, that by the repeal of those duties, they would add to the employment of the people. He wished, too, to increase their means of subsistence, and with this view he called upon the House to extend our commerce in tea, sugar, and coffee, and also in bacon, cheese, and butter. These might be called the household articles of commerce and they were unquestionably of the greatest importance to the poor. America had abstained from levying duties on the articles of tea and coffee, and he asked the House to follow the example thus set to it. But, besides, we were now anti- cipating an extension in our trade with China; but no such anticipations could be realised if they did not enable the Chinese to give us something in return for our manufactures. We must, if we increased the sale of our manufactures in China, take an increased quantity of some article in return from them, and that article must be tea. The consumption of tea in this country had remarkably increased of late years, and so had that of coffee and sugar. These articles had become of more importance to the people than they had ever been, for they had acquired those habits of temperance which were so honourable to them, but so unknown to their forefathers. Taking the whole amount of tea consumed in this country at 40,000,0001bs., about 22,000,0001bs. consisted of that sort called Congou, which was principally consumed by the poorer classes, and, therefore, a reduction in the duties would be a great relief to the poor. The present duty was 2s. 1d. per lb. upon tea of all sorts, and of course it pressed with greater severity upon the more coarse than upon the finer qualities of tea consumed by the rich. When the tea duties were altered, upon the opening of the Chinese trade, a discriminating rate of duty, favourable to the import of the teas consumed by the poor, was attempted to be introduced. It was proposed to divide the classes of tea imported into three sorts, to be charged respectively with 2s., 1s. 6d., and 1s. per lb. of duty. Great difficulty was anticipated, however, in judging of the qualities of the teas; and at length an uniform duty was suggested, and which was the parent of the present duty of 2s. ld. Now, whether we looked to the prospects of our trade in China, or to the interests of our own poor, a reduction in the tea duties appeared equally just and politic. When the duties on tea were reduced in 1768, the consumption was doubled. In 1784, the duty was 1s., or about 67 per cent. Mr. Pitt reduced that duty, and the consumption rose immediately from 5,000,000lbs. to 10,000,000lbs., and in two years from 5,000,000lbs. to 17,000,0001bs. By reducing the present duties on tea, they would be enabling the poor to use not only a cheaper but a purer beverage. He would only allude slightly to the subject of the sugar duties, hut he would maintain that these duties were most oppressively felt by the poor consumers, and on looking over the annual circulars printed with respect to the trade, he found accounts of a great increase in the quantity of impurities mixed up with the sugar. The lowest-priced sugars contained nearly 10 per cent. adulterated matter. With respect to coffee it was well known that the consumption had greatly increased. In 1811 there was only one coffee-house in London—that was to say, one establishment devoted to the sale of that beverage only—while at present the number amounted to upwards of 2,000. It was well known that in 1801 the duty on coffee was a very high one, amounting to 1s. 6d. per lb. The consumption, then, in this country did not exceed one pound per head for all the population. In 1811 the duty was lowered to 1s., and the consumption increased to five pounds per head. As long as the duty remained at 1s., the consumption was stationary; but when the former was reduced to 6d. per lb., he need not remind the House how rapidly the latter increased. The case of coffee was, indeed, a remarkable instance of the equality preserved between the reduction of duty and the increase of consumption. The consumption was always in the inverse ratio of the duty. The right hon. Baronet opposite had, indeed, reduced in some degree, the duty upon coffee in his Tariff; but although he reduced it in amount, he had not done so in proportion. In fact, the position of foreign coffee was rendered more unfavourable than before. Now, he asked for a reduction of duties upon tea, sugar, and coffee. He might be blamed for introducing so many articles into one proposition; but he believed, that by the increased consumption of one of them, the effect of any reduction of duty on another, would he fully made up to the Revenue. He had asked them to remove the duties upon the raw materials of manufactures—to lower the duties upon articles of subsistence; and he now asked them to turn their attention to those duties which had always been held as incentives to smuggling. Not a day passed but some poor seaman was dragged up at Liverpool, on the charge of having contraband tobacco in his possession. To put the trade upon something like a fair footing in the article of brandy, the duty ought to be reduced one-half. That this was the most expedient course, was proved by the fact, that in former cases, where the duties were reduced, the Revenue increased. Chemistry was made subservient to smuggling; and brandy was introduced in considerable quantities, in the shape of naphtha. It would be a great advantage to this country if brandy was introduced in a larger quantity, for it was wanted for many pharmaceutical purposes. Mr. Huskisson reduced the duty on silk 30 per cent. ad valorem; but this was too high by half. He came now to the articles of butter and cheese. On the one there was a duty of 20s. per cwt., and on the other one of 10s. 6d. He could not understand, when the right hon. Gentleman (Sir Robert Peel) reduced the duties on salt provisions, why he omitted those two most important articles to the poor. He was afraid it was because the right hon. Gentleman found the cheese interest too strong to contend against. The indirect taxation which pressed so much on industry, was owing to the ascendancy of the landed interest. Sir R. Walpole gave the sanction of his authority to this principle; but in the concluding years of his Administration, he acted on the views so long maintained by the present Opposition.

House counted out, and Adjourned at seven o'clock.