HC Deb 22 July 1845 vol 82 cc949-55
Mr. Ewart

rose to move that the House go into a Committee to consider the Duties of Customs on Butter and Cheese. He was of opinion that these duties should be totally repealed; in the first place, because they placed well nigh a prohibition on the consumption, by the poorer classes, of articles of the greatest importance to them; in the second place, because they operated as a great restriction upon our trade and commerce; in the third place, because their repeal, so far from injuring the revenue, would increase it; and, in the fourth place, because, when they were imposed originally, it was with no intention of their being permanent, the object of their being imposed, at the close of the war, being to give an impulse to the sale of Irish produce. As to the poorer classes, these duties had the effect of doubling for them the price of these essential articles. As to our trade, their repeal would infallibly extend our commerce with Holland 50 per cent., and that with the United States from 75 to 100 per cent.; this extension, moreover, especially applying to those States with which our relations required to be established on a greater and more friendly footing. Experience had fully shown, in the case of coffee, tea, and other articles, that a reduction of duty was sure to produce a more than equal amount of revenue from the greater consumption of the articles, while in every other respect the results were clearly most beneficial. His proposition, doubtless, would be resisted by agricultural Members; yet their constituents were deeply interested in the repeal of these duties, so large a proportion of what butter and cheese they did manage to get being of foreign produce, and the price of this being, as he had said, doubled to them in consequence of the Tariff. He would not trouble the House further at present, but simply move that the House go into Committee.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, he should certainly confine himself, as the hon. Member had anticipated, to the financial bearings of the subject. The hon. Member had intimated that if they went into Committee, he should move the total repeal of these duties; to that Motion he should offer a decided opposition. He need scarcely remind the hon. Gentleman or the House, that the financial arrangements for the year had been made. In making those arrangements, the Government had endeavoured to give the most relief to the interests of the country. Some there were who thought they had gone beyond prudence; but that they had gone to the extreme verge of prudence was the opinion of all, for they had proposed such a reduction of duties, that when the calculations of revenue and of expenditure for the year were made, they proposed to leave at the end of the year a surplus not exceeding 100,000l. It was his duty, therefore, not to yield to any further reductions, which could not be made without the risk of a considerable deficiency. The two duties on butter and cheese produced last year a sum of 347,000l., which he could not consent to give up, neither could he consent to state now what course he would pursue for the future. It was the duty of a financial Minister not to express a premature opinion, which expression might be made use of and operate injuriously. It would be fatal to those who were engaged in business if a course of future policy were promulgated at the end of a Session which would derange the trade of the country, whilst there might be circumstances in the country afterwards which would prevent the promised repeal. On the propriety, however, of these, as of all other duties, he would reserve his opinion till that period of the year when the finances were to be considered; and when he knew the circumstances of the country at the time, he would take such a course as would best promote the general interests of the country.

Mr. M. Gibson

admitted that the right hon. Gentleman ought not to be expected to announce on the part of the Government what reduction of duties they would propose, and what would be their fiscal policy for the future. He was glad, however, to find the right hon. Gentleman justifying these duties only on fiscal grounds, and declare that the only benefit the country received from these duties was 347,000l. It had been proved that the present duties cause a considerable reduction of human food, and that if there were no importation the agricultural labourers would not be able to procure cheese or butter. Knowing something of the agricultural labourers of Suffolk, he could say they consumed a great deal of the inferior kinds of foreign cheese. He knew that the cheese of Suffolk was hardly eatable, and, as it was said, the dogs barked at it, and he thought a duty of 100 per cent. was too high to be maintained, if they put on any duty at all. The cheese growers of this country could not supply one-half the wants of the country. The duty on corn here had a tendency to increase the arable and to destroy the pasture land, whilst they maintained this high duty on cheese and butter. The end of the war was of all times the most strange for increasing taxation, and he called upon the Government at the earliest period to take a course which he had every confidence they would take, and consider these duties which affected most important interests in the country.

Mr. Hume

thought, it could be shown that the Revenue would receive the same amount of money, and the duty be reduced at the same time. Every reduction of duty on other articles had increased the Revenue; and if these duties were reduced one-half, the same sum might be received, and a great benefit conferred.

Mr. P. Howard

said, that in Warwickshire, Cheshire, and some other counties, where a large quantity of cheese was made, the farmer would suffer materially if that branch of agricultural produce were much interfered with. After the concession which the Government had made to the commercial interest at the commencement of the session, he thought it was hardly fair to make any fresh demand. The agriculturists ought not to be deprived of all protection.

Mr. Newdegate

would only make a single observation. It was to express a hope that though the agricultural Members might be silent on the present occasion, the House would not suppose them to be indifferent to the subject under consideration.

Mr. Cobden

feared if some of his hon. Friends near him supported a scale of duties for such articles, it would be necessary for him to dissolve partnership with them. It would, he was convinced, be found that any duty on articles of food would fall doubly as heavy on the labouring man as on the rich man, and thus the Government would be in a dilemma, in which they should abolish the duties altogether. Though the hon. Members for Derbyshire, and some other counties, might find it to be for the interest of their constituents to support the duties on butter and cheese, he could not see why the Members for Norfolk and Suffolk, for instance, should adopt the same course. If the right hon. Baronet would take the trouble of making inquiries on the subject, he would find that there were six or eight counties taxing the rest of the country, as well as all Ireland and Scotland, in order that they might receive a high price for their cheese. In the same manner, if the right hon. Baronet took up other articles, such as oats, beans, hops, and barley, which were produced in particular districts, he would be able to checkmate every county in the kingdom. He would be thus able to show that they were pursuing a system by which they were picking each other's pockets, and by which they were all losers in their turn, while the whole country was a loser along with them. With regard to the question before the House, he felt confident that it would be dealt with next year, if not in the present Session; and he hoped that other heavily taxed articles—such as silk, which had been alluded to in the course of the present debate—would be taken into consideration at the same time.

Mr. Tatton Egerton

said, the hon. Member who had just sat down had talked of the agriculturists' picking one another's pockets, but he had said nothing about the great manufacturers of Lancashire or Yorkshire adopting the same course in picking the pockets of all England. He did not, however, reproach the manufacturers for making large fortunes; but he would ask, why were not the landed proprietors to have also a return for their capital? If the profits of the two classes, namely, the agriculturists and the manufacturers, were compared together, he was convinced that the latter would be found to be beyond all comparison the greater.

Dr. Bowring

said, if the manufacturers of this country required the consumers to pay a higher price than the same article could be procured for elsewhere, then, indeed, the comparison drawn by the hon. Member who had last spoken would hold good. But the manufacturers had repeatedly declared that they required no protection, and they even showed that those manufactures which had been most protected had progressed least.

Sir Robert Peel

had been rather curious to know what Motion the hon. Member would have made, provided he succeeded in inducing the House to go into Committee. In the early part of the Session, when the hon. Member before brought the subject forward, he had been under the impression that the object of the hon. Member was to move for an absolute and total repeal of these duties; but now, when his right hon. Friend had argued that the Motion of the hon. Gentleman involved a loss of 350,000l. to the revenue, the hon. Member cried out "no, no," as it implied only a reduction of the duty. But how was it to be expected that Her Majesty's Government could seriously consider a reduction of 350,000l. in the Revenue at the present period of the Session? At an earlier part of the year, when they found themselves, in consequence of the renewal of the Income Tax, with a considerable surplus to deal with, they proceeded to propose reductions in the duties on various articles to the amount of 3,400,000l. Now, it would have been perfectly open to any hon. Gentleman, when these reductions were under consideration, to have proposed the remission of some of these duties, in order to substitute others for them; but, instead of doing so, hon. Gentlemen approved of the various reductions that had een proposed by the Government, and now, after having permitted them to be carried into effect, and after the Government had reduced their estimated surplus revenue to 100,000l. for the year, the hon. Gentleman comes forward in the month of July and proposes a farther reduction of 350,000l., for some time, at least, in the taxation of the country. The Government had already left the surplus revenue much smaller than under ordinary circumstances would be desirable; but they wished to make a great financial experiment, and they therefore ventured as far as they possibly could go. Again, if the present Motion were carried, another hon. Member (Mr. Foster) intended proposing another Resolution, which involved an additional reduction of no less than 80,000l. He would ask, did the House think it right to annihilate the small sum that would remain in the hands of Government, and to run the risk of having a deficiency of 200,000l. or 300,000l. at the end of the present year? He opposed this Motion wholly on financial grounds, and he thought it decidedly objectionable to permit the propositions of Her Majesty's Government with regard to finance to be confirmed at the proper period of the Session, and that each individual Member should be at liberty to make propositions involving large financial changes. If the House had not confidence in the Government, whose business it was to bring forward a proposition of finance for the year, let a Motion of want of confidence be made. He said that the Government was bound, at the proper period of the year, to make an exposition of their financial scheme for the year, and then it was for the House to adopt or reject it; but to take the course adopted by the hon. Member opposite, of bringing forward a financial proposition of this nature late in the Session, must derange the commercial policy of the country, and render it altogether uncertain what line would be pursued. He trusted the House would not accede to the Motion.

Colonel Sibthorp

said, he for one had not confidence in the Government. The right hon. Baronet asked, why not bring forward a Motion of want of confidence? If such a Motion were made, the right hon. Baronet would probably find himself having recourse to the other side of the House to help him through.

Mr. M. J. O'Connell

wished his hon. Friend would not press his Motion to a division; but at the same time, if he did so, he (Mr. O'Connell) would feel it his duty to vote with him. His constituents: depended more on the sale of butter, than even on corn; but still he thought one rule should be applied to all agricultural produce; and in proof of the little danger which was to be apprehended from foreign competition, he might refer to the flax-growers of Ulster, who, though at first alarmed at the reduction of the duty on flax, now produced a larger quantity of that article than they had ever done before.

Mr. Ewart

replied: he begged to remind the right hon. Baronet, that it was in consequence of the right hon. Baronet's suggestion he had postponed his Motion on a former occasion. He wished, also to add, that when he spoke of a reduction in these duties, it was from a conviction, that if the rates of duty were reduced one-half on butter and cheese, the gross amount received by the Revenue would fully equal that now arising from these sources.

The House divided:—Ayes 38; Noes 136: Majority 98.

List of the AYES.
Aglionby, H. A. Fielden, J.
Baine, W. Forster, M.
Barnard, E. G. Hastie, A.
Berkeley, hon. C. Hindley, C.
Blake, M. J. Hollond, R.
Bouverie, hon. E. P. Hume, J.
Bowring, Dr. Mitcalfe, H.
Brotherton, J. Mitchell, T. A.
Christie, W. D. Moffatt, G.
Clay, Sir W. Morris, D.
Cobden, R. Muntz, G. F.
Collett, J. Norreys, Sir D. J.
Dennistoun, J. O'Connell, M. J.
Duncan, G. Pechell, Capt.
Dundas, Adm. Plumridge, Capt.
Strickland, Sir G. Ward, H. G.
Tufnell, H. Wawn, J. T.
Villiers, hon. C.
Wakley, T. TELLERS.
Walker, R. Ewart, W.
Warburton, H. Gibson, M.
List of the AYES.
Ackers, J. Gladstone, Capt.
Acland, T. D. Gore, M.
A'Court, Capt. Goulburn, rt. hon. H.
Acton, Col. Graham, rt. hn. Sir J.
Antrobus, E. Granby, Marq. of
Arbuthnott, hon. H. Greene, T.
Arkwright, G. Grimston, Visct.
Astell, W. Hamilton, C. J. B.
Barkly, H. Harcourt, G. G.
Baring, rt. hon. W. B. Heneage, G. H. W.
Bennett, P. Herbert, rt. hon. S.
Bentinck, Lord G. Hinde, J. H.
Blackburne, J. I. Hope, hon. C.
Boldero, H. G. Hope, A.
Borthwick, P. Hotham, Lord
Botfield, B. Hussey, T.
Bowles, Adm. Ingestre, Visct.
Bradshaw, J. Jermyn, Earl
Bramston, T. W. Jocelyn, Visct.
Broadley, H. Jolliffe, Sir W. G. H.
Broadwood, H. Jones, Capt.
Bruce, Lord E. Lennox, Lord A.
Bruges, W. H. L. Lockhart, W.
Buller, Sir J. Y. Lowther, Sir J. H.
Cardwell, E. Lygon, hon. Gen.
Carew, W. H. P. Mackenzie, T.
Chute, W. L. W. Mackenzie, W. F.
Clive, Visct. M'Neill, D.
Clive, hon. R. H. Martin, C. W.
Cockburn, rt. hn. Sir G. Masterman, J.
Codrington, Sir W. Meynell, Capt.
Collett, W. R. Morgan, O.
Compton, H. C. Mundy, E. M.
Corry, rt. hn. H. Neeld, J.
Cripps, W. Neeld, J.
Damer, hon. Col. Newdegate, C. N.
Darby, G. Newport, Visct.
Dawnay, hon. W. H. Nicholl, rt. hon. J.
Denison, E. B. Northland, Visct.
Dick, Q. Ossulston, Lord
Dickinson, F. H. Packe, C. W.
Duckworth, Sir J. T. B. Pakington, J. S.
Duncombe, hon. A. Palmer, G.
East, J. B. Patten, J. W.
Egerton, W. T. Peel, rt. hn. Sir R.
Escott, B. Peel, J.
Estcourt, T. G. B. Pennant, hon. Col.
Farnham, E. B. Polhill, F.
Feilden, W. Pringle, A.
Ferguson, Sir R. A. Pusey, P.
Fitzmaurice, hon. W. Rashleigh, W.
Fitzroy, hon. H. Repton, G. W. J.
Flower, Sir J. Richards, R.
Fox, S. L. Rolleston, Col.
Fremantle, rt. hn. Sir T. Round, J.
Fuller, A. E. Scott, hon. F.
Gardener, J. D. Sibthorp, Col.
Gaskell, J. M. Smith, A.
Gladstone, rt. hn. W. E. Smith, rt. hn. T. B. C.
Somerset, Lord G. Trollope, Sir J.
Sotheron, T. H. S. Tyrell, Sir J. T.
Spooner, R. Vernon, G. H.
Spry, Sir S. T. Vesey, hon. T.
Sturt, H. C. Walsh, Sir J. B.
Thesiger, Sir F. Wellesley, Lord C.
Thornhill, G. Yorke, hon. E. T.
Tollemache, hn. F. J.
Tollemache, J. TELLERS.
Tower, C. Young, J.
Trevor, hon. G. R. Baring, H.