§ MR. OLIVEIRA
said: Sir, I rise, according to notice, to move—That, in the opinion of this House, the present rate of duty charged upon Foreign and Colo- 673 nial Wines is excessive and impolitic, and that the same be reduced to one uniform rate of 1s. per imperial gallon.During the course of last Session of Parliament I had the honour of submitting to this House my views and opinions upon the important question of the wine duties, on which occasion I urged upon Her Majesty's Government the expediency, upon many considerations of policy and finance, of reducing those duties from their present prohibitive rate to a point that would bring this useful and necessary auxiliary to modern life into universal consumption.
I was then, as I am now, of opinion, that a large and immediate diminution of the duty upon this "great gift of Providence to man," as the Chancellor of the Exchequer so aptly called it, would, by its increased consumption very soon produce a much larger amount of revenue than it yields at present; and this conclusion is so natural an inference from the results attending the removal of high duties upon other articles that no one in the present day will attempt to contradict it. Another consequence that I ventured to anticipate from a relaxation of the high duty paid upon wine by Great Britain was, that those countries which would benefit by the increased demand for their chief productions, would as well, from motives of reciprocity as from a necessity to supply their wants, become large importers and consumers of the manufactured products of England through the very British shipping that would frequent their ports to obtain wines—thus giving employment out, as well as home, to shipping and seamen of Great Britain. Another and a great benefit I suggested as necessarily to follow, would be that the working community of the United Kingdom would, by the substitution of a wholesome cheap beverage, be improved in their moral tone and general character; for it is universally admitted, that the use of ardent spirits brutalises man, and leads to the commission of crime and its subsequent evils. These, Sir, were briefly the grounds upon which I advocated an immediate and considerable reduction of the wine duties, to which may be added that stimulus to international commerce, and the extension of amicable relations between various countries of the world, which must necessarily flow from this extension of the principles of free trade.
But, whilst pressing my own special views, as applicable to one branch of the 674 revenue derived from a single article of importation affecting the comforts of the community, I did not hesitate to admit that there were several other subjects which might be urged upon the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as having prior claims to reduction, being of more domestic and immediate concern to the people, when compared with an article of foreign growth, and as yet little known to the bulk of the community—and even designated by some as a luxury reserved for the upper classes only.
On the one hand, these considerations had their influence upon me: still weightier causes, on the other hand, led me to with draw till the present Session a trial in this House of the amount of support my proposition would receive. These causes were contained in the reasons adduced by the right hon. Gentleman, who had at that time before him the very onerous and difficult task of producing a financial scheme, at the very commencement of his official career, with a Government but newly formed, exposed to the hostile attacks of an Opposition, discomfited by defeat, and bitter from the signal failure of its own ill-prepared and unpopular budget, when in power.
The reception given by the right hon. Gentleman to my proposal was such as to obtain my ready acquiescence in its withdrawal. For upon that occasion the Chancellor of the Exchequer, though concurring in the general soundness of my proposal, had prior claims upon his generosity, and, looking to the amount of revenue involved, he thought it would bear postponement. At the period when the right hon. Gentleman gave expression to those sentiments, 5th April, 1853, the House was not in possession of his intentions with respect to his general scheme of finance. But, taking these declared opinions as an earnest of the direction in which his policy would tend, I believe that I exercised a wise discretion, as well as a proper confidence in the Administration, by not pressing my motion to a division.
Let me now call the attention of the House to the condition in which we find the question after the lapse of a year; and, as a necessary introduction to that inquiry, I must make some general reference to the state of the national resources at that period, and the course adopted by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in providing for the annual expenditure of the year, 675 and the causes which, in my opinion, led him to postpone (I hoped till this present Session) a reduction of the wine duties.
On the 18th of April last the Chancellor of the Exchequer submitted to the House his general statement of the finances of the country, in a speech which all who heard it must admit to have been one of the most comprehensive and masterly compositions ever pronounced in this House. If its composition and its effective delivery were of the highest order, it must be considered likewise as one of practical and minute detail into all the branches of revenue and sources of taxation, examining, in a masterly spirit, all the complicated and varied items of our national income and expenditure—readjusting with a critical and fair discrimination many branches of revenue hitherto unequal in their operation, and effecting so many reductions and total removal of duties and taxes, that whatever disappointment might have felt at the wine duty being left where it was, I conceived that the same genius and energy which dictated the reductions then proposed, would in due time he applied to a source of wealth only requiring to be developed by a large diminution to render it one of the most productive contributors to the national income. Upon the last occasion when I had the honour to address the House upon this topic, I presented a detailed table, showing that the wine duty had remained stationary in amount for the last twenty years, notwithstanding the vastly increased wealth that had been acquired in the same period, and that the population had more than doubled. We have now passed through another year of general prosperity, remarkable for the stimulus imparted to consumption in these articles subjected to a reduction a duty. I will take four of these articles most used by the community at large:—
Cocoa.—The amount entered for home consumption in 1851—eleven months ending Dec. 5, was 2,843,755 lbs. 1852—eleven months ending Dec. 5, was 3,121,435 lbs. 1853—eleven months ending Dec. 5, was 3,898,070 lbs. Sugar entered for home consumption in 1851—eleven months ending Dec. 5, was 5,840,940 cwt. 1852—eleven months ending Dec. 5, was 6,467,404 cwt. 1853—eleven months ending Dec. 5, was 6,824,893 cwt. Tea.—Amount entered for home consumption in 1851—eleven months ending Dec. 5, was 49,764,193 lbs. 1852—eleven months ending Dec. 5, was 51,043,518 lbs. 1853—eleven months ending Dec. 5, was 54,507,834 lbs.
These figures I extract from the official tables issued by the Board of Trade.
Coffee.—Amount entered for home consumption in 1851—eleven months ending Dec. 5, was 30,170,020 lbs. 1852—eleven months ending Dec. 5, was 31,873,462 lbs. 1853—eleven months ending Dec. 5, was 34,143,156 lbs.
The wine duties produced, as per return No. 817, moved for by my hon. Friend the Member for Lambeth, Mr. Williams:—
Showing the languor which still affects this article as regards revenue, notwithstanding the remarkable increase in other consumable items.
In 1851 … … £1,821,123 In 1852 … … 1,776,247 In 1853 … … 1,795,013
The period When other reductions and alterations in duties, as the stamps and assessed taxes, have taken effect is too limited to be able to form any correct data as to the ratio of increase; but it is obvious that all consumable products have been largely enjoyed by the people all over the kingdom: a result as gratifying in its effect upon the comfort of the population as it is clearly an indication that these wise and just removals of imposts must have had their favourable action in many ways, and through various channels upon the revenue of the country. And taking the aggregate reduction upon articles subject to duty or excise, as stated by the right hon. Gentleman himself in October last, at two millions, there was in the quarter ending at that period a sum of four hundred thousand pounds aver the same quarter in the preceding year, and the surplus upon the past year is of a most encouraging character.
The right hon. Gentleman last year removed all the impediments which stood in the way of this question. First, he reduced the duty upon tea by a scale of gradual diminution which, whilst it will give time for the production of increased supply, and not suddenly disturb revenue, will, in its beneficial and commercial effects, be felt and appreciated in every cottage throughout the land. The same may be said with reference to the total removal of the excise upon soap—a most objectionable and impolitic tax—and felt to be a grievous burden to the masses of the people. I will not detain the House by going into an analysis of the numerous articles upon which the right hon. Gentleman either abolished or reduced import duties, by which commercial affairs have been facilitated 677 and benefited, and vexatious restrictions abolished. Neither will I occupy unnecessary time by dwelling upon the advantages of the reduction in the stamp duties or other topics, not immediately connected with this subject, except as proving that the Government has most clearly adopted the principle of reduction in the amount of duties, with a view to their increase, and that the increase has followed as a corollary to the proposition in every ease where it has had time for fair development.
During the interval which has elapsed since this House last met, I have given my exclusive time and attention to the study of this question in all its varied and complicated bearings. I have done this from a conviction of the grave responsibility which attaches to the disturbance of any great commercial subject embracing, as this does, interests vitally affecting private enterprise, the investment of large capitals, the negotiations and productions of foreign countries, and a considerable branch of the imperial revenue. I view With a due regard the precautions to be observed by a public man in venturing to carry on an investigation into topics of this serious and important nature—and I hope to be acquitted from the charge of premature and inconsiderate discussion by this House and the public.
Having a due regard to all the interests concerned; looking to the revenue of the country; taking into account the mercantile firms whose fortunes are invested in this trade; considering the advantages likely to accrue to many branches of English industry; looking also to the benefits that may ensue through the increased intercourse with foreign countries; and being convinced of the immense results that we may anticipate in improving the social and sanitary condition of the people by an immediate and very large reduction in this duty—viewing, on the other hand, the evils which now prevail, as shown by the trade being a virtual monopoly, the poisonous compounds drunk by the community under the name of wine, the adulterations of home-made articles, and substitution of British wines, whereby the revenue suffers to a prodigious extent—I have thought it expedient—nay, incumbent—upon me to use my most strenuous efforts to obtain a final decision upon the question this Session. My total independence from party in this House or in public, and the support which this question has elicited from gentlemen of all political views, and all 678 sections of the community out of doors, encourage me in the vigorous prosecution of the design.
Having a cause a such undoubted soundness, admitted by the leading statesmen of the day to be ripe for discussion and prompt action, and being personally free from any motives but those of advantage to the country, benefit to the revenue, and the paramount considerations of extended international good, combined with the comfort and ultimate amelioration of the British people, I confidently and most earnestly anticipate a favourable and a final determination of this great question on the part of Her Majesty's Government.
In illustration of the various heads of inquiry, I will briefly give the House some few facts from which I have drawn my conclusions.
Taking first in order the financial bearing of this question. I think the startling results shown by the tea, coffee, sugar, Post Office, and other heads where large reductions have taken place, must convince all unprejudiced minds that the same result will naturally follow with wine; and although it will be necessary to consume six times the present quantity, I adhere to my opinion of last year, that in two or three years that would be accomplished.
[The hon. Member here referred to the evidence of Mr. Shaw, Mr. Forrester, Mr. Porter, Mr. Redding, and others, before the Committee of 1852, showing that the revenue would be vastly increased by the reduction of the duty.]
I find in the Montreal Weekly Herald of September 3, 1853, the following curious facts respecting consumption. Perhaps the most remarkable article in our catalogue, however, is wine:—Annual British consumption of wine per head, two and a quarter pints; annual Canadian consumption of wine per head, five pints. Here we see a very large consumption of wine in the province, when it is considered that the calculation is made per head for the entire population. It is probable that the difference in this respect is caused by the comparative lowness of the provincial duties upon the cheaper description of wine, which enable them to be used freely in Canada by classes who only taste wine as a rare luxury in England, where the duties are so contrived as to keep out all but the high-priced wines.
There is so general a concurrence of opinion amongst all practical impartial judges upon this point, that I think I may 679 safely dismiss that branch of the inquiry without further observation, with the conclusion, that the House will admit with me, that the revenue, after an interval, would recover itself to the same or a greater amount.
It may be well to make a passing reference to a point intimately connected with revenue—I mean the subject of British wines. This branch of commerce has been on the increase for many years past, and the annual consumption of these wines is calculated at more than 600,000 gallons. Many of these wines approach so nearly to the appearance and character of foreign wines, which they imitate, that a very large quantity of British port, sherry, and champagne are so consumed, by which, of course, the revenue suffers. This is particularly the case with champagne made of foreign grapes, having foreign labels and corks.
The manufacture of this wine is carried on to a large extent in many parts of the country, especially at Reading and at Leeds, as well as at the manufactory of Messrs. Walker, of Goswell Street, who have a very large demand for these wines. The very obliging head of this establishment told me some time ago that their business was increasing to such an extent that it was necessary to add a 20,000-gallon vat to their establishment. This gentleman was examined before the Committee of 1852, and said that his sales were 45,000 gallons per annum, of which 10,000 were British Port, and 9,000 gallons British Sherry. So that, assuming other British manufacturers to sell an equal proportion of these imitations of foreign wines, they displace an equal quantity of duty-paying wine, and there is a loss of 50,000l. to the revenue, without taking into account the champagne, by far the most generally consumed, but of the amount of which I have no accurate data. Mr. Walker was of opinion that if the wine duties were gradually reduced from 5s. 9d. per gallon to 2s. per gallon in four years, existing interests would not be injuriously affected.
I will now solicit the attention of the House while I endeavour to enter upon the second branch of this inquiry, though, probably, the first and all-important in its effects and consequences—I mean, the social, the moral, the sanitary bearings upon the community, and the operation thereby effected upon our national character. Sir, I think the day has gone by 680 when any Minister will declare in this House—even one enjoying the deserved esteem and popularity of the right hon. Gentleman—that the moral and social character of the people are matters of indifference, and that he desires to raise revenue, though it be from sources which tend to the vice, the demoralisation, and the debasement of the people. The right hon. Gentleman will, I am sure, both from his own kind nature, and his large experience, advocate an opposite theory.—[The hon. Member here read extracts from the evidence of Mr. Porter and others, showing the better moral condition resulting from the use of wine instead of spirits.]
It is well known that this is the case on the Continent, where wines are produced, and generally consumed by the people. My experience, which extends over very many years, has led me to observe that you rarely witness any symptoms of intoxication amongst the lower orders of these countries—and when Englishmen of the same class go to these countries, they form the exception. This is strikingly the case with British seamen, when they land in foreign parts where wines are cheap.
In the large manufacturing towns of France, I was informed on a recent tour, that the working classes drank wines in moderation; that drunkenness and spirit-drinking were scarcely known. Referring to the great uses and benefits derived from wine in a sanitary point of view, it is impossible to enumerate the immense number of advantages to the human frame which this great production of Providence yields to man. In the course of my inquiries throughout this and other countries, I find one universal opinion amongst gentlemen of the medical and surgical professions, that the use of wine, whether as a general supporter of the system, as a tonic, as a restorative after sickness, or to fortify and strengthen the constitution, may be considered as the safest, the most efficacious, and the most beneficial in its results; and it is a remarkable circumstance, that in the course of a pretty active communication with those learned professions, both personal and by correspondence, I have met with universal support, numbering, as I do, amongst my general committee a list of distinguished names, which shows the lively, disinterested, and practical interest which that learned body take in the question; all the more valuable, that it is free 681 from the most remote suspicion of interest or prejudice.
The right hon. Gentleman himself has, in my estimation, passed the strongest commendation upon wine as a useful article in the general economy of man's dietary, when he said,Considering that wine was one of the great gifts of Providence to man, considering what a place it occupied among the means of subsistence, considering how many useful and wholesome ends it subserved in connection with his physical temperament, considering the manner in which it may be used as a competing article with alcoholic spirit, he must confess that it was most desirable, if it were possible, to make an important change in the duties upon wine."—[3 Hansard, cxxv. 634.]Pliny says—Vino aluntur vires sanguis calorque hominum.With respect to the use of wine and spirits, the great chemist, Liebig, says:—Spirits, by their action on the nerves, enable a man to make up the deficient power at the expense of his body. He draws, so to speak, a bill on his health, which must always be renewed, because for want of means he cannot take it up. He consumes his capital instead of his interest, and the result is the inevitable bankruptcy of the body.Wine, as a restorative, as a means of refreshment when the powers of life are exhausted, of giving animation and energy where man has to struggle with days of sorrow; as a means of correction and compensation when misproportion occurs in nutrition, and the organism is deranged in its operations; and as a means of protection against transient organic disturbance, wine is surpassed by no product of nature or of art. The nobler wines of the Rhine, and many of those of Bordeaux are distinguished above all others by producing a minimum of injurious after effects. In no part of Germany do the apothecaries' establishments bring so low a price as in the rich cities on the Rhine, for the wine is the universal medicine for the healthy as well as the sick; it is considered as milk for the aged. The commercial value of wine is directly proportioned to its immediate effects, and inversely proportioned to its disagreeable after effects.The senior surgeon of Middlesex Hospital said:—Every one experienced in the medical treatment of the sick, knows the great value of wine properly administered. Its healing effects are more marked in them than in the rich. In many lingering illnesses, when the stomach will scarcely tolerate food or medicine, we rely principally on wine for preserving the life of the patient. In an hospital, the wine merchant's bill is always a serious item of expense. In the Middlesex Hospital the average daily number of patients is 250; the average annual consumption of wine is two pipes. Speaking for myself; were wine cheaper, I should prescribe it more frequently than I do, in lieu of porter or spirits.682 I will take the liberty of reading a short but very expressive letter from my hon. Friend, the Member for the West Riding, on being applied to as to the best mode of "opening the trade in spirits:"—
§ "In reply to your inquiry, I venture to suggest that the best way of dealing with the monopoly of spirits is to abstain from drinking them, which for upwards of twenty years I have done. Depend on it, they are nothing better than slow poison, even if taken moderately. What they are when taken in excess, the records of our gaols, lunatic asylums, and coroners' inquests will inform you.
§ "I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
§ "RICHARD COBDEN."
§ The consumption of spirits (Porter's Tables) in the three Kingdoms by the adult population is per head per annum—
§ I feel assured that I shall command the warm support as well of this House as of the community at large throughout this great country, in venturing to hope that the most sincere and intimate alliance may continue to exist between our powerful neighbour and ally, France; more than ever necessary in the present critical times, as a barrier against lawless aggression, to promote the restoration of peace.
§ I can speak from personal observation, obtained by a recent visit to that country, of the earnest desire amongst the leading statesmen and many public bodies, to see a cordial, lasting, and indissoluble alliance between the two greatest countries in the world, alike remarkable for their advanced civilisation and stedfast adherence to the great cause of peace. I believe it will be found that the Government of the Emperor of the French are most willing to reduce their tariff as regards the importation of British goods.
§ I would refer to the recent decree affecting coal and iron in proof of this policy. A reduction upon raw cotton has also taken 683 place, and all materials used in the construction of ships were about to be admitted duty free, as well as foreign ships admitted into French ports upon a footing with French ones. These two last subjects have, however, been postponed, but will, I trust, be carried ere long.
§ I am privileged to say, from conversations I had with M. Drouyn de Lhuys, French Minister for Foreign Affairs, M. Ducos, Minister of Marine, and M. Magne, Minister of Commerce and Public Works, that the policy of the French Government is that of progress in the sense of free trade, and that their commercial views are those of strict reciprocity and mutual reductions as regards Great Britain.
§ The same sentiments were conveyed to me by the French Minister, Count Walewski, and I hope under the present aspect of affairs, so great an occasion will not be allowed to pass of proving to France our sincerity and our resolutions to stand firmly together, as that which would be accomplished by a spontaneous, immediate, and large reduction of duty upon the thief production of that country.
§ I know nothing that would have a more favourable effect upon the feelings of the French people towards us—nor would anything tend so much to strengthen the hands of the French Government in bringing about those reductions upon our goods which they are anxious to effect.
§ I believe that Irish linens, pottery, and other articles, will be considered with reference to this reduction. There can be little doubt that both Spain and Portugal, through the introduction of railways, and the more frequent intercourse with this country, are gradually improving in the knowledge of the principles of commerce; and that we may anticipate, at no distant date, enlarged facilities for British consumption in both those countries. At all events, our proceedings with reference to this question, so interesting to their agriculture, must awaken a feeling of activity which will add to the energy of the party of progress and enlightenment in the Peninsula. The commercial and international benefit from these sources will be fully understood by the House. Germany is already a great customer to the English manufacturer, and fully entitles herself to all our generosity with respect to her wines. No difference of opinion exists in this House as to the advantages to be derived from an extension of the principles of free trade; and this subject is one of the most 684 legitimate and fertile branches of that doctrine.
§ A somewhat controverted subject still remains for me to touch upon. I mean the amount of supply necessary to meet our extended requirements, and the capability of that supply being largely increased. As this is a matter upon which some highly respectable members of the trade have some apprehensions, I have fortified myself with all the most correct and reliable data, to prove, as I think, incontestably, the sources of supply to be inexhaustible, the capability of increased produce boundless and illimitable. Nay, further, taking our increased consumption at a maximum, the apprehension of a deficiency is chimerical and absurd. Although this subject is necessarily one of detail, in which I fear the House will take but little interest, I must ask for its kind indulgence, whilst I endeavour to go as quickly as the importance of the inquiry will admit of, into the relative capabilities of produce and supply of the great wine districts of Europe, which may be enumerated as follows:—Germany, France, Spain, Portugal, Sicily, Greece, and the Ionian Islands. [The hon. Member here read at great length a correspondence which showed the products of these countries to be enormous, and their capabilities illimitable.]
The hon. Member proceeded: I hope from these evidences, to which I could add many more, that those parties who feel so keen an apprehension of our not obtaining a sufficient supply, will be convinced, this never could be a serious question of anxiety, but has been adroitly imported into the discussion as an element to divert the unwary from the real point at issue. Upon similar objections being raised as to the supply of tea, what said Dr. Bowring the other day at Manchester. The learned Doctor said:—
I recollect well the time when the East India Company, representing the most powerful monopoly which has ever been constituted, declared by their advocates, both in and out of Parliament, that the removal of that monopoly and the destruction of that privilege of which they were the holders, would tend to the destruction of the China trade. At that time the export of tea from China was about 33,000,000 lbs, and it was represented that it was only to the influence of that huge body that that great quantity could be obtained, that prices were kept at a moderate rate, and that the quantity was secured for the British consumers.
Now, gentlemen, that monopoly, great, gigantic, and powerful as it was, was overthrown by the greater power of public opinion, and by the energetic demands of intelligent commercial men.
When I left China she was not only able to export 33,000.000 lbs. of tea, but 100,000,000 lbs. in the year 1852, and not only has the price not been raised, but it has been considerably lowered to the British consumer, and so far from their being any deterioration of quality, I venture to say that no better teas have ever come into the markets of the world than those which have been produced under this diminution of price, and this augmentation of demand.
Some alarm had been expressed, he was told, if we opened the tea trade more fully, lest there should be an insufficient supply; but he could assure them that there was no fear of that. The quantity used here was but a drop in a bucket to what the Chinese themselves used, and to what was necessarily produced. He had no fear that China would be able to supply any amount of tea we might require.
Now, Sir, I believe that I may say everything of wine which has so well been said by Dr. Bowring of tea. At all events, with the evidences I have adduced, the supply, according to present cultivation, stands as follows:—
|Germany and Austria||545,041,666||equal to||5,450,416|
|Spain and Portugal||600,000,000||equal to||6,000,000|
|Italy and Greece (say)||100,000,000||equal to||1,000,000|
§ I have now completed my task, and, although but imperfectly, I have brought before this House the leading features of this great question, in its connection with commercial freedom, revenue, its bearing upon our relations with foreign countries, and the claims which it has in a moral point of view.
§ I have occupied a far greater portion of the time of this House than I had contemplated, and I beg to express my grateful feelings for the indulgence which has been so fully granted me. However defective my statement of this large and complicated subject may appear, I feel that its own intrinsic importance will have justified me in the course I have adopted. Due regard for the revenue, and the susceptibility of the trade, induced me to think that it was my duty to enter upon the inquiry thus early. I now appeal to this House in the cause of that freedom of commerce which all parties have affirmed. I appeal to the sacred interests which are involved in an extension of commercial relations with the countries of Europe, more especially with that great country, in whose firm alliance with us rests the peace of the world and the advance of civilisation. I appeal to the improved condition of the middling and industrial classes, 687 that may arise from weaning them from the use of those strong and exciting drinks, which, whilst they stupefy and degrade the people, add millions of expenditure to the criminal and judicial proceedings of the country; and I boldly ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the real advocacy of these anticipations, to forego, for a short period, a small amount of revenue, which will benefit the country in so many other ways. Although I have thought it my duty to press the consideration of this question upon the attention of Her Majesty's Government, especially in connection with our French alliance, I confess that, looking to the increased estimates required for the public service, I shall leave the entire subject with the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the confident hope that he will do whatever he may consider most to the interest, the honour, and the permanent welfare of the country. I shall, therefore, beg leave to withdraw the Resolution.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member has set a precedent, which I hope will not be followed. He has spoken at considerable length, and has left the House with no question before it to which a reply could be made.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.