§ On the Motion that the Order of the Day for the Committee of Supply be now read,
§ MR. EWART
said, that in introducing the subject of which he had given notice—the effect of the present excessive amount of indirect taxation on the trade and labour of this country—he had been impelled by the importance of the question to our commerce and manufactures, and, most of all, by a conviction of the undue pressure of the existing system on the poor. He thought that the time had arrived when our whole scheme of taxation should be reconsidered: what had been its result in past experience—what should be our principles of action for the future. The present system of indirect taxation was oppressive to the labouring classes of this country, not only because it taxed trade, the principal source of their employment, but because the mode of its imposition was, towards them, unjust. In every instance, the same duty was levied on the inferior article used by the poorer, as on the superior article of the same nature consumed by the wealthier, classes. The cheaper bohea or congou tea of the poor man, paid the same amount of duty as the costlier congou or hyson of the rich. So did his butter and cheese, his tobacco, his sugar, and his coffee. Yet it stood on evidence, given before the House of Commons, that by far the larger amount of 1250 duties on all these articles was paid by the great mass of the working classes. They were the great consumers of tea; they were the main consumers of foreign butter and cheese; they formed (as it appeared before the Tobacco Committee) nine-tenths of the consumers of tobacco. They paid, therefore, the larger amount; and, under the operation of an uniform duty, they paid it in an unequal manner. In fact, it was stated, by one who appeared to have paid much attention to this subject, that "the poor were taxed (under the present system of indirect taxation) to the extent of 20 per cent, or one-fifth of their property." The inequality of this system had neither escaped the observation of statesmen nor political economists, and they had suggested as a remedy the imposition of a proportionate duty on the sale price of the article—in other words, an ad valorem duty. This principle, after a long life of financial and commercial experience, was embodied in the famous Excise scheme by Sir Robert Walpole—a scheme which shook his Administration, and endangered his life. It was thus explained and defended by our great political philosopher, Adam Smith:—If (he observes) commodities were delivered out for home consumption, the importer not being obliged to advance the tax till he had an opportunity of selling his goods, either to some dealer, or to some consumer, he could always afford to sell them cheaper. It was the object of the famous Excise scheme of Sir Robert Walpole to establish such a system.Were such a plan introduced, and an ad valorem duty applied to it, it would form a species of indirect tax on property. Such a system had been pursued in levying the duties on the sales by auction of the East India Company's tea. But was it applicable to modern usages and modern commerce? He (Mr. Ewart) feared not. To accomplish it, you must have a system of compulsory and periodical sales by public auction. Freedom in the disposal of produce, when they could and how they could, by the traders of this country, and the extension of sales by private contract, appeared to be indispensable to modern commerce. What then remained? That, to alleviate and equalise their various fiscal burthens, they should extend more fully the principle of taxation upon property. Such a system of financial reform would not benefit the public by a change of the point of pressure only: the reduction or repeal of an indirect tax amounted to much more than the mere amount of the duty reduced. It was an observation of Dean Swift, 1251 as trite as it was true, that "in matters of finance two and two do not always make four." He (Mr. Ewart) believed it might be said that, in the reduction of taxation "take two from four, and two do not always remain;" but (if the reduction be judiciously effected) sometimes much more than two. Thus he found it stated, that while the Excise duty on salt (30s. a cwt.) existed, the price of salt in the interior of this country was 40s. the cwt. The tax was repealed. But the price of the article fell much more than by the mere amount of duty repealed. It did not fall to 40s., minus 30s. (the amount of duty), that is, to 10s., but to 3s. 6d. Such was the effect of removing the intermediate charges for capital and time, which vanished with the primary and original charge of duty. So when that judicious measure, the repeal of the duty on almanacks, was effected by that excellent man, the late Lord Spencer, the price of almanacks fell by much more than the amount of duty. The tax was 1s. The price of Moore's Almanac was then, duty included, 2s. 2d. The tax was repealed. The price fell, not to 1s. 2d., but to 6d. Thus, much collateral as well as immediate good was conferred on the public, by the abolition of an injudicious impost. In his review of taxation, he (Mr. Ewart) would begin with the Customs duties, and then proceed to the duties of Excise. From among the Customs duties, he would select the duty on tea. Tea was becoming more and more an article of consumption by the poorer classes of this country; and it was an article which, in modern times, much affected the employment of the poor, because it was the basis of our trade with China. But how disproportionate was the duty on the lower priced, compared with the higher priced article. The poor man paid for his tea more than twice the proportion of duty which the rich man did. Yet the greatest tendency to increased consumption existed among the poorer classes. The real secret of indirect taxation was, to increase your area of consumers. Let the base of the pyramid be as wide as possible. By lowering the duty, you create a new class—almost a new nation of purchasers. The habit, once given, was never lost; and the newly acquired want elicited new energies from the population. Nay, more, the good conferred was collateral, as well as direct. If more tea be consumed, more sugar will be demanded also. In the Isle of Man, the duties on tea had been reduced. The consumption 1252 increased largely; and, contemporaneously, the consumption of sugar. But the duty ought also to be reduced, for the sake of further employing our poor. Our exports of cotton to China were decreasing. Our exports of woollens were alarmingly diminished. Germany and Belgium successfully competed with us. Yet it was undeniable, that China only waited for a large reduction of the tea duty to become an immense consumer of the cottons and woollens of Great Britain. The principle which events had rendered applicable in India, must be applied by us to China. Take her natural products, she will take your artificial products. Lower your duty; and unlock the trade. By such means, in India, the production of sugar had been doubled since 1840; coffee since 1839; sheep's wool, a new article of export, had been called into existence; and these must be exchanged, directly or indirectly, for British manufactures. Thus the new wants of the people would create new employment for the people; while mutual intercourse and mutual peace would be promoted with the East. To another article—or rather to two other articles, whose consumption among the poor was greatly extendible—he had already called the attention of the House: he meant the humble but most important articles of butter and cheese. Mark the tendency of the area of consumers to enlarge itself coincidently with a reduction of duty. Since Sir Robert Peel had reduced these duties by one-half, the consumption of foreign butter and foreign cheese had greatly increased. This was the range of increase according to the Finance Accounts of this year:—
Foreign butter and cheese (like so many other foreign articles) were mainly, nay essentially, consumed by the working classes of this country. Our very agricultural labourers lived upon Dutch cheese. Here, again, he said, extend your area of consumption. Lower, or rather repeal, this iniquitous duty, which, in times of scarcity, was a cruel duty; feed your people, and extend your trade; and bind Holland to you by the golden links of commerce and of peace. The tobacco duty, though on principle a perfectly justifiable duty, was, in consequence of its amount, 1253 a duty most oppressive on the poor. It ranged between an amount of 600 and 1,200 per cent on the value of the article. So extravagant a duty was a financial solecism. In such cases, our friend the smuggler interposed; and it appeared, before the Committee of which he (Mr. Ewart) was a member several years ago, that tobacco was sold at a lower price than the amount of duty. But what the people gained in smuggling, they lost in morality. It appeared by a return (moved for by Mr. Hume) that in the three years ending in 1845, no less than 3,000 persons were convicted for smuggling tobacco. Nay, the Committee had evidence that a school for smugglers was established in London; he regretted to add that it was under female superintendence, and he feared it might successfully rival some of the institutions of the Committee of Council on Education. In considering the tobacco duty, the manufacture of snuff ought not to be omitted. It seemed to be established by every witness before the Committee that, were the duty lowered, this country would become the great centre of the manufacture of snuff. We were already bound to America by our cotton trade: we were perhaps about to be even more essentially united to her by the com trade. It would be well if we found another source of extended commerce, and another security for peace, in the tobacco of Virginia, as well as in the cotton of the southern, and in the corn of the western regions of the Union. He turned to another most important and yet undeveloped trade, the wine trade. Our commerce in this direction was chained down. These two propositions were clear: that other nations, less able to pay for them, consume far more of the wines of France than we do; and that we consume far less than we did, in even less civilized times. For this anomaly there could be no other reason than the burthen-some duty upon wine. Denmark, not more populous than London, consumes more of the wines of France than all Great Britain. Holland (according to Mr. Porter), sixty times as much. Here, again, was an opportunity of extending the area of consumption. Bring in a new race of consumers. Formerly the demand came from a lower depth of society. Let it come thence again. France can supply us cheaply and abundantly. He (Mr. Ewart) had moved for a copy of the address of the Libres Echangistes (or free-traders) of Bordeaux to Lord John Russell. Let him quote their words:— 1254
Value of foreign Butter consumed in 1845, £259,151 in 1846, 364,194 in 1846, 372,727 Value of foreign Cheese consumed in 1845, £312,320 in 1846, 387,497 in 1847, 506,761The consumption of wine in France is thirty-six gallons per inhabitant; in England it is only one-fourth of a gallon. In the 17th century, the consumption of wine in the British Isles was many times greater than now. Suppose a duty imposed of 10l. a hogshead, common wine could then be sold (duty included) at 1½d. a bottle, ordinary sorts 6d., superior sorts at 8d. a bottle.The wines of Bordeaux were formerly not only a more common beverage in England, but the orthodox beverage at Oxford, till port was introduced under the shelter of the Methuen Treaty, and until diplomacy, as she often did, but as she should never be allowed to do, imposed fetters upon commerce. Besides re-opening our trade with France, a reduction of the wine duties would open a new trade with Greece and Italy, and clothe the natives of those and of other countries with our manufactures. From the consideration of injurious Customs duties, he turned to a subject of even greater oppressiveness, the duties of Excise. He knew not how this most important element of impolitic taxation had been so long neglected. Our views, long directed to duties on our foreign trade, had overlooked the imposts and restrictions which weighed down our domestic manufactures. The gigantic injustice of the corn laws had thrown into the shade many evils which were nearer home. It was true, that various judicious reforms in the Excise had been adopted. The Commission of Excise Inquiry, appointed in 1833, with the late Lord Congleton as its chairman, had suggested many most valuable changes. Several of these had been adopted, especially under the auspices of the present able chairman of the Excise Board, Mr. Wood. The duties on vinegar, starch, glass, and more recently on auctions, had been abolished. But many grievous burdens still remained. It was not always of the amount of duty, nor the conduct of the officers (who, generally, he believed, were well-conducted), that the traders complained, but of the system; in matters of trade, a small restriction was a great impediment. The very act of intermeddling was an evil. But it was much aggravated when this intermeddling took place in the course of manufacture. A necessary corollary of the Excise system was the survey on dealers. This involved the right of entering on premises at any hour; even (with certain observances) at any hour of the night. The act of "taking stock" was another official interference. He was told that, to make this interference really effective, the number of officers must be multiplied to an 1255 excess which was scarcely within the hounds of possibility. But it appeared to him that interference with trade involved the sacrifice of the most valuable of all things to the trader, namely, the trader's time. He was told that this was especially the case in the paper manufacture. Suppose our cotton, or silk, or woollen manufacturers were suddenly subjected to the same mysterious meddling, is it possible that they could endure it? The duty on soap, however modified it had been in substance and in form, was still, to his mind, a great national evil. True, the duty had been reduced; but not to the extent recommended by the Excise Commission in 1833. But of this, and other duties, he thought it would be better to absolve commerce altogether, and adopt the substitute he should suggest—a system of direct taxation. The report of the Commissioners stated, that the manufacture of soap was more advanced in France, and even in Spain, than in this country. The duty on olive oil (one of the elements of foreign soap) had indeed been reduced from 4l. to 2l. per ton; this was one of the judicious fiscal reforms of Sir Robert Peel. It ought however (as a tax on a raw material of soap) to be altogether' repealed. Even then, could we successfully compete with the foreign soapmaker, while our Excise system obstructed the progress of improvement? It appeared, by the report of the Commissioners, that duty was payable on soap which was the result of an unsuccessful experiment. He could scarcely believe that a regulation so hostile to commerce still existed. Even were it modified, objections to the principle of the soap duty remained. The soap duty did not extend to Ireland; if suffered to exist, there can be no doubt that Ireland (as the Commissioners of Inquiry recommended) ought to be liable to the duty equally with Scotland and with England. He next turned to a subject which he deemed of the greatest importance to this country. He meant the duty upon paper. This duty, together with the soap duty, was imposed by the 10th of Anne (in 1711), in the words of the statute—For raising large supplies of money to carry on the present war, until your Majesty be enabled to establish a good and lasting peace.The peace had been established in 1713. It was (thanks to Sir Robert Walpole) tolerably lasting too; but the duty had never been repealed, He held this to be a most objectionable tax. Its levy caused 1256 much vexatious interference. An account (he believed) must be taken of the daily produce of the paper manufacturer. The number of sheets in every ream must be given. Every ream must be labelled. Every label must be written on. If the paper be afterwards destined for exportation, the label must be removed. All this was interference; and it was a tax of the most intolerable kind in this age, because it was a tax upon time. To tax the time of the trader, was (in his, Mr. Bwart's eyes) one of the greatest fiscal offences that could be committed. Yet, in all these little matters, the workmen must attend the steps of the Excise officer. A paper manufacturer with whom he was acquainted, was lately showing his works to an enlightened foreigner, the owner of a paper manufactory in the Roman States. Entering a room of the establishment, they found two men at work. The Italian learnt with astonishment that these were officers of the Government. He paid, he said, a direct tax of 7l. 10s. to his own Government; and his trade was free. He (Mr. Ewart) believed that our paper manufacturers were undersold abroad, notwithstanding that a drawback was allowed on the paper which was exported. This disadvantage he could only attribute to interference with the trade. If emancipated, it would probably expand into full freedom, like the glass trade. Even now it had a latent tendency to do so. A manufacture of paper from straw had been begun; and he believed that boxes, now made of wood, would frequently he made of paper, if our manufactures were unshackled. But there was, in his mind, an insuperable objection to this paper duty, and these paper fetters altogether. They formed a tax and a burden upon the literature of England. He believed that two-thirds of the paper manufactured were used for the purposes of printing. There was also this anomaly in the duty: much of our paper (especially the paper of which newspapers were made) was formed out of the sweepings of our cotton and flax-mills. There was no duty on these articles as raw materials; but they paid a duty when they entered the paper trade. Turn cotton into calico, it was duty free; convert it into paper, it was taxed. The effect of the repeal of the duty on almanacks (already adverted to by him) was an instance of the effect of repealing a duty upon literature, however lowly. But he held the mere duty on paper not to be so great an evil as the 1257 intermeddling with the paper trade. If these domestic restrictions were removed, our language and our literature would naturally expand. From the extension of our commerce, and the commerce of the United States, the common language of both nations had a natural tendency to become the mercantile language of the world. Let us render justice to our national language and our national literature, as well as our national commerce. He next turned to an impost on a common article of great and increasing importance—he meant the Excise duty on bricks. In this case, as in the case of soap, there was no duty on the manufacture of Ireland. Indeed, comparatively, there was scarcely any duty in Scotland, since nature had provided Scotland with an ample supply of valuable stone. But where the duty did fall in Scotland, it was, by comparison, the more oppressive. This duty was originally imposed by Mr. Pitt in 1784, to meet the exigencies of the debt created by the recent war with America. At first it extended to stone, as well as to bricks; but the stone interest was successful in its rebellion against the duty. Mr. Pitt was obliged to yield. He left the brick duty alone remaining; but he acknowledged the impolicy and the partiality of its character. In fact, he (Mr. Ewart) maintained that this was, in the language of the Commissioners of Excise Inquiry, "among the most objectionable of the duties of Excise." The same Commissioners also condemned certain restrictions which affected the spirit trade. It was hard that a general dealer should have any minimum imposed as a limit on the quantity he was allowed to sell; yet so it was. He could not (Mr. Ewart believed) sell a smaller quantity than two gallons. The Commissioners recommended a reduction and equalisation (throughout the three kingdoms) of the duty. Ireland ought in this, as in other respects, to enter on her common liabilities of impost. Give her every (the minutest) privilege which we enjoy; but, with her privileges, let her share our burdens. But there was one point of view in which he deemed many of the Excise duties especially obnoxious—he meant, in their effect on science and on art. They barred the way to the explorations of science, and the inventive power of art. From the repeal of such duties new and unexpected developments arose. When, more than twenty years ago, the duty was repealed on salt, a new chemical manufacture was at once created. Soda, 1258 before produced from the kelp of the Highlands or the barilla of Spain, began to be derived from common salt. At Liverpool, and elsewhere, new manufactories arose; a new trade was created. On the same principle, it was shown before the Commissioners of Excise Inquiry, especially by Mr. Fincham, that the existing restrictions on the glass trade had obstructed the application of science to the making of glass. Lenses for telescopes, ordered by foreigners in this country, could not be made, because of the restrictions of the Excise. It was also shown that these restrictions prohibited the experiments of science in the manufacture of soap. Since the glass duties had been abolished, how great had been the development of that most beautiful fabric! The window of every glass shop indicated that science and art combined to improve and to embellish it. Few would suppose that there was a connexion between the arts and the making of bricks; but he remembered that when it was asked in a Committee (on the connexion of art with manufactures, of which he (Mr. Ewart) was chairman, in 1836) why we did not make bricks of various shapes, as in the time of Henry the VIIth and Henry the VIIIth, the answer was, that the restrictions of the Excise prevented us. He found this evidence singularly corroborated by the valuable testimony of Mr. Wood, the chairman of the Excise Board in the last Session of Parliament. That Gentleman, in his evidence before the Committee of the House of Lords, on "The Burdens on Land," stated that some of the Excise regulations on the manufacture of bricks had been relaxed, and that "the consequence of this alteration was, that great facility had been given for making bricks of ornamental shapes, and enabling architectural ornaments to be made in brick, previously in effect prohibited." He (Mr. Ewart) had no doubt that so ordinary a trade as the brick trade, when emancipated, would be made still further obedient to the purposes of art. He had limited the foregoing suggestions to duties of Customs and Excise. He admitted the injustice and impolicy of other duties also. The window duty was one of a most unequal and impolitic character. The insurance duty was a tax on the foresight of the parent and the resources of the family; and other duties were, in various ways, objectionable. But he principally assailed those duties which obstructed or choked up the sources and 1259 Springs of labour. There was, however, one class of duties which bore so unequally on the less wealthy classes, that he would briefly refer to them—he meant the stamp duties. It appeared in evidence before the Lords' Committee on Land Burdens, last year, that the—
So, in the case of mortgages, the law prevented the poorer individual from obtaining equal facilities with his more wealthy fellow-countrymen.
£ £ s. d. Stamp duty on a sale of land of 50 value was 12 10 0 per ct. Stamp duty on a sale of 100 value was 5 0 0 per ct. Stamp duty on sale of 300 value was 2 10 0 per ct. Stamp duty on a sale of 500 value, only 1 14 3 per ct. Stamp on one above 500 value, only 1 0 0 per ct.
So that, as Mr. M'Culloch stated, the duty on the mortgage for 50l. was eighty times as great as the duty on one for 100,000l. These duties, however, he only alluded to collaterally, as showing how much the whole subject of our present system of taxation deserved the attention of the Government. He reverted to his main object, the indirect pressure of the duties of Customs and Excise; and he wished the House to consider them in another aspect, their effect on the morals of the people. He had partly referred to their immoral influence in his view of the tobacco trade. In the soap trade, in the paper trade, in the spirit trade, fraud was proportionately prevalent. It was the inevitable result of a heavy system of indirect taxation. But he had found in one of their own Parliamentary documents an admission respecting the immoral influence of the Customs duties, for which he had not been prepared. In the year 1844, in con-sequence of extensive frauds in the Customs department, involving the characters of its officers, a Commission of revenue inquiry was appointed. The following was a part of their report, bearing the signatures of G. H. Somerset, W. E. Gladstone, W. B. Baring, J. M. Gaskell, A. Pringle—all, at that time, Ministers of the Crown:—
£ £ s. d. The stamp duty on a 50 mortgage was 2 0 0 pr. ct. The stamp duty on a. 20,000 mortgage was 0 2 0 pr. ct. The stamp duty on a 10,000 mortgage was 0 0 6 pr. ct.In respect of the great revenue articles of tobacco, spirits, and Wine, as well as of many imports on which high duties are leviable … Sufficient disclosures have been made to show that the fraudulent trader has not failed to avail 1260 himself of any means of increasing his profit to the detriment of the revenue; and that officers were easily induced to facilitate such attempts by every mode of deceit and every description of falsehood. Indeed, we were forced, very early in our inquiries, to feel a distrust of the integrity of the officers, and of the efficiency of the system. The previous high character and estimation of an officer appeared to be no guarantee for his honour and integrity.So much for the moral influence of indirect and overstrained taxation! As to the relative cost of the two systems, he (Mr. Ewart) maintained that a direct tax on property would be far more economically collected than a great portion of the present taxes. He thought that this might be inferred from the relative percentage cost of the different sources of revenue, as given in the ordinary finance accounts annually laid before Parliament. Taking the finance accounts just printed for 1847, he found that—
So far, therefore, it appeared that the direct revenue of the country was raised more cheaply than the indirect revenue. This result would probably appear more manifest, if the revenue accounts gave any means of separating the property tax from the land and assessed taxes. But this they did not do. Now he (Mr. Ewart) maintained this proposition—that, as the capital of the country yearly, and even daily, increased, the collection of a large part of the revenue derived from it must become cheaper and cheaper to the public. Accumulated capital must be invested. If invested, whether in mortgages, canals, railways, or any other public undertakings, it could be taxed in transitu. In such cases, no staff of officers was required, no interference with trade. The Government gathered its revenue as the profits passed out of the subject of investment into the purse of the recipient. It might indeed be objected that a more direct system of taxation would drive British capital into foreign countries. He admitted this objection; and he thought that some effective mode of taxing profits on foreign investments was just and necessary, and not impracticable. Looking beyond our own country, or rather to its lasting welfare as combined with the welfare of all the world, 1261 he hailed a diminution of our system of indirect taxation as a great financial instrument of international peace. Let him be allowed to quote, on this part of the subject, the address of the Free-trade Association of Bordeaux to Lord John Russell:—
£ s. d. The cost of collecting the Customs duties was 5 11 10 per cent. The cost of collecting the Excise 6 0 10 per cent. The cost of collecting the Taxes, Land 3 6 4¾ per cent. The cost of collecting the Taxes, Assessed The cost of collecting the Taxes, Income The cost of collecting the Taxes, PropertyWhen (they say), in the beginning of the last year, Sir Robert Peel presented to the British Parliament his great commercial measures, he expressed his belief that England's example, as regards free trade, would be followed by other nations. Sir Robert Peel's speech had no sooner reached Bordeaux, than it produced a deep sensation, and a general desire of making further and more vigorous efforts to obtain the adoption in France of the principles of free trade.He (Mr. Ewart) rejoiced to hear such language from one of the leading interests of a great country, with which the sympathy produced by congenial institutions, and, he believed, the will of Providence, tended to unite us, interrupted in vain by the force of hereditary prejudice and the mischievous meddling of diplomacy. Let us, then, take freely the wines of France; and let us, on the same pacific principle, admit the tobacco of the United States, strengthening the bonds which already connected our land with theirs, and adding the produce of Virginia to the cotton and corn of their southern and western districts. So, bind Holland to you by the bonds of peace, and let her dairy produce feed your impoverished people. The ever memorable words of Mr. Pitt recurred to his mind; they were those with which he introduced his commercial treaty with France:—To suppose that one nation is to be unalterably the enemy of another, is weak and childish. It neither has its origin in the experience of nations, nor in the history of man. It is a libel on the constitution of political societies, and supposes the existence of diabolical malice in the original frame of man.On all these grounds be (Mr. Ewart) in-treated the House to explore and see if they could not amend, with benefit to the poor, with benefit to commerce, with benefit to the nation and the world at large, their system of taxation. The labour which they taxed was the most sacred part of the property of this country. Accumulated wealth ought to bear its part. It would do no harm if something were detracted from superfluous luxury, to add something to productive labour. He thought that even the artificial habits of our richer classes might be made more simple and more frugal, if they bore a more equal share of the general taxation. Finally, he asked for no sudden and dangerous, but for a wise and well-consi- 1262 dered change. The aridity of the subject might have wearied an unwilling audience. He knew not how he might be answered in the House or in the country. Whatever were the issue, he sought for consolation (and he found it) in what he believed to be the soundness of his principles, and what he knew to be the purity of his motives. The hon. Gentleman then moved—That it is expedient that a more direct system of Taxation on property should (as far as possible) be substituted for the indirect system (by Customs and Excise Duties) now in use:That such a change would, by removing restrictions caused by the Excise, encourage trade, and the free application of science to trade:That, by removing the restrictions caused by Customs Duties, it Would extend commerce, and be the most natural means of prolonging the peace, by promoting the intercourse, of the world:That it would be highly beneficial to the poor, (who now pay the great mass of indirect Taxation,) by giving them more abundant means of subsistence and of employment; and would tend generally and finally to the good of all classes of the community.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
felt confident that he expressed the opinion of the whole House when he said that it was quite unnecessary for the hon. Member (Mr. Ewart) to say anything in defence of the purity of his motives. He believed that there was no man who stood less in need of any defence on that score, as every one knew the disinterested motives which always actuated his hon. Friend; and certainly it was impossible to overrate the importance of the subject he had brought before the House. At the same time, he hoped his hon. Friend would not consider it any disrespect to him if he declined to follow his hon. Friend into the details of the various points he had brought under the notice of the House, relating to almost every article of taxation in the Customs, the Excise, and the Stamps and Taxes. It was evident that in the course of next Session it would be his duty to bring before the House the subject of taxation—that it would be indispensably necessary to deal one way or another with one great item of taxation—he meant the income tax; and that it would then be for the House to consider the question of the permanence, and perhaps the increase of the system of direct, as contradistinguished from indirect taxation. It would be obvious, therefore, to every one, that it would not be proper on the present occasion to say anything which would indicate the course which—supposing that he continued to hold his present 1263 situation—he might consider it his duty to take on this question. His hon. Friend had satisfactorily proved that there was no tax against which some plausible objection might not he made; and he was certainly not sanguine enough to expect that he would be able to do what so many of his predecessors had failed in doing—he meant make taxation of any kind palatable. He assured the House, however, that it was his anxious desire to see our taxation put on a footing the least oppressive to those who paid the taxes; and to foster industry and commerce to the greatest degree of which they were susceptible. Beyond this general explanation he thought it better to abstain from saying more on the present occasion; and after the full and able way in which the hon. Member had submitted his views on the subject of taxation, he thought it very desirable that the subject should not be prolonged.
MR. R. YORKE
trusted that after what had just been stated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the hon. Member would withdraw his Motion, and permit the House to proceed to the business of the evening.
§ MR. HUME
said, that as the business of the evening was to vote away the public money, it was of great importance to consider how the taxes should be levied from the public; and, therefore, he thought his hon. Friend had taken a most appropriate step in introducing his present Motion. He (Mr. Hume) thought the time had come when the House ought to consider how they could raise the largest amount of money at the least expense. He had no doubt that the Chancellor of the Exchequer must be desirous to be relieved from the importunities to which he was subjected with reference to particular taxes, especially Excise taxes. Nothing could be more unsatisfactory than for a Legislature which professed a desire to improve the moral condition of the people to keep up a system of taxation which created immorality every hour of the day, and which the Chancellor of the Exchequer, with all his power, could not put down. His hon. Friend, therefore, had done right, he thought, in bringing the subject before the House, and in giving an opportunity to hon. Members to express their opinions on it. It was true the question would come before another House of Commons; and his principal reason for rising at that moment was to say that it depended on the people themselves whether any improvement should take place. If the people 1264 sent Members into that House without instructing and requiring them to reduce the expenditure of the country, the fault was their own if it was not reduced. It had been said a league was formed to put down the Excise duties. He wished them all success; but they would do well to look to what had been done by the Anti-Corn-Law League. Let them look to the elections that were coming on, and make a point of supporting no candidate who would not pledge himself to a reduction of taxation, as well as a change in the mode of taxation. He believed that great injury was done to trade by the manner in which taxes were at present collected. No individual, for instance, could employ himself in the burning of bricks without being liable to be brought under the lash of the Excise. Then there were the restrictions on the manufacture of paper. He saw no reason why this country should not manufacture paper for the whole world, seeing we possessed such natural facilities for it; and yet the vexatious interference of the Excise prevented this being done. He hoped, that in whatever changes were contemplated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the abolition of the duties on paper, soap, and bricks, would be included. He would also recommend an early consideration of the reduction of the expenditure of the country. The income of the country, he felt confident, was at present diminishing every hour. It was impossible, from the state of manufactures, but that the revenue derived from the Excise duties must be diminishing. Why not, as one item, withdraw our naval force from the coast of Africa, where it was of no use? This would be one important reduction; and there were many others which might be effected with equal advantage.
fully concurred in the necessity of an alteration of a system of taxation by which upwards of fifty millions per annum was taken from the pockets of the working classes. The hon. Member for Montrose had talked of bricks, and soap, and paper; but the tax on those articles only amounted to 2,000,000l. sterling. It was not such matters, but the expenditure of the country which ought to have the first consideration of the Government. What was the state of the expenditure when the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth laid before the House the estimates for 1835? Why, it was 7,000,000l. sterling less than the estimates of this year. He should like to 1265 know from the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer some reason for this vast increase. Nor would he take the year he mentioned alone; an average of five years would show an equal increase. Let them return to the expenditure of 1835, and they would save not only the duty on the three articles on which the hon. Member for Montrose laid such stress, but the income tax besides. He begged to remind the Chancellor of the Exchequer that in all reductions of taxes which had hitherto taken place, the revenue had never fallen off more than a third on the particular article reduced; generally much less, and often there was no loss at all; and therefore the right hon. Gentleman might reduce taxation without fear to a great extent contemporaneously with a reduction of expenditure. The country had therefore a right to call on the Government to reduce the expenditure. Why not go back to that of the year he had taken for an example? But it would appear that the country was always to be governed by a wasteful extravagance of expenditure. He remembered when Lord Grey's Government succeeded that of the right hon. Member for Tam-worth, a reduction of 1,000,000l. sterling was made in the estimates; but the present Government, in replacing the right hon. Baronet, made no such efforts. In speaking of the taxation, it must always be remembered that the sums dealt with in Parliament was the net amount; the cost of levying the taxation, which amounted annually to 4,500,000l., in its progress from the taxpayer to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, was always deducted. This was a state of things the present Government, or at least the leading Members of that Government, had declared, by a resolution signed by themselves, to be most injurious to the public interest; yet, when the hon. Member for Bolton brought forward his Motion to abolish or mitigate the evil, they voted unanimously against it. The working classes were the consumers of the principal articles of taxation, and he would say that such an enormous reduction from their hard-earned wages could not long be submitted to. The hon. Member for Montrose said that the people had it in their own hands, and that they ought to reject all candidates who would not pledge themselves to reduce the amount and alter the manner of taxation; but, unfortunately, the people had no such power; and until they had a more extended power in their hands there was no hope for them. He 1266 would ask, were labouring men to toil and sweat, and experience the greatest possible difficulty in providing for themselves and their families, and then have more than half their wages taken from them in taxes on the necessaries of life which they could not avoid paying? He would not then detain the House by any further remarks, as he understood that this Motion was to have no result whatever. He could have wished the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Ewart) had brought forward his Motion in such a way as to test the opinion of the House; but that could not now be done, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer had given them a hope that he would revise the system. He hoped next year the right hon. Gentleman would redeem that pledge; but he confessed, from the experience of the past, he had no sanguine hope that that pledge would be redeemed. The time, however, was coming when the present state of things would no longer be endured.
§ COLONEL SIBTHORP
remarked, that the hon. Member for Coventry was so constantly declaiming on the subject, and was so dissatisfied with every item in the way of expenditure, whether by the late or the present Government, that he (Colonel Sibthorp) had become convinced that he would never be satisfied until he became Chancellor of the Exchequer himself.
§ Motion withdrawn.
§ House in Committee.