moved the following Resolution:—That the maintenance of any Duties upon Hops is impolitic, and that in any remission of taxation or adjustment of financial burdens, provision should be made for the removal of such Duties.He said I believe the prevailing idea among persons whose attention has not been specially directed to the Excise duty on hops is that it operates as taxes on articles of consumption ordinarily do; that, in the long run, it is paid by the consumer; that it is the beer drinker alone pays the duty; that beer is not an absolute necessary of life, and that thus a useful and reliable amount is contributed to the revenue of the country by a duty upon a commodity which is in itself a fair and legitimate object of taxation. I must point out that if the case were simply such as is supposed, the tax would still be open to this grave objection—that it is a tax on the raw material of a manufacture, and the amount has to be advanced in the first instance by the producer, then by each dealer in succession through whose hands the commodity passes, till it conies at last to the consumer increased in price, not only by the amount of the duty, but by successive accumulations of interest. Those, however, who have 1422 any experience of the working of the hop duty, or have been led to inquire into it, know that its operation is very peculiar and complicated. The fundamental reason is to he found in the exceptional nature of the crop, which is itself full of irregularities and anomalies. Hop growing is the most expensive branch of farming. It costs the hop grower from £22 to £30 an acre for raising the crop, and from 20s. to 30s. per cwt. for the expenses of picking and bagging. Notwithstanding this enormous expenditure, the result is the most uncertain in the world. I will tell the House what the variation in regard to the growth of hops has been in successive years. In 1849, 42,000 acres produced 145,000 cwt. In 1850, the same number of acres produced 420,000 cwt. In 1851, the number of hundred-weights produced on the same number of acres fell to 236,000; and in 1852 it rose to 447,000 cwt. In 1854, the number of acres under cultivation had increased one-seventh, and the number of hundred-weights produced fell to 86,000. In 1855, the same number of acres produced 728,000 cwt.; and in the succeeding years, from 1856 to December, 1858, the crop on the same acreage fell by 300,000 cwt. In 1859, the acreage having been reduced by fully one-fifth, the crop available was 599,000; and in 1860 the crop, upon the same number of acres, fell to 97,000 cwt. It will be seen from that Return that the hop plant may be taken as the emblem of fickleness, and the symbol of uncertainty. While the supply is so irregular as to baffle all calculation, the demand is strictly limited, because hops are only required for the purpose of making beer. It is not like a manufactured article, in which the producer has the power of apportioning the supply to demand; but all hops which were not required for making beer were a dead loss. Without any over-speculation on the part of the farmers, there is always danger of production out running consumption; but the duty is not upon consumption, but upon production. The grower is called upon to pay duty upon every pound of hops produced; and it may frequently happen that there is an excess of supply over the demand, and then the grower sustains a loss, inasmuch as the duty must come out of the pocket of the grower. The duty, being a duty on quantity, is contrived with such perverse ingenuity as to be heaviest in those years when prices are lowest, and the grower least able to meet the pressure. I 1423 will give the House a statement of what that pressure is. In 1855, the duty in the Sussex collection amounted to £14 2s. 8d. per acre; in 1856, to an average of £11 11s. 1d.; in 1857 to £6 7s. 7d.; in 1858 to £12 16s. 7d.; and in 1859 the duty, on an average, was £14 per acre. The duty on the average of five years was £11 5s. per acre. On many lands it amounted to more pounds than the rental did to shillings, and in many cases it exceeded the rent, tithes, land tax, poor rate, church rate, highway rate, and county rate, all put together, three or four times over; and in such years it came not out of the pocket of the consumer but out of the pocket of the grower. Moreover hops are of various qualities, and their qualities are distinguished by very distinct lines of demarcation, lines as wide and definite as those that distinguish different growths of wine; yet the duty is uniform and inflexible. It is 14s. per cwt. Some hops average in value nine or ten guineas per cwt., while others are only worth two or three guineas, so that the average duty on some kinds is as high as 75 per cent. while on others it is only about 8 per cent. Looking, then, at the nature of the commodity, the great cost of production, the uncertainty of the crop, the irregular supply, the limited demand, the unequal value of the articles produced, I say that hops are, á priori, an unfit object for an Excise duty. The growers have so many natural difficulties and anomalies to contend with, that they cannot bear to be further subjected to artificial ones. The necessary effect of any Excise duty, even the best devised, is to increase the cost of the article on which it is imposed, and to necessitate the employment of a larger amount of capital in that particular stage of manufacture or production at which the Excise duty is levied. Here is a commodity the cost of producing which is naturally very great, and Government selects that and artificially increases the cost. Here is the branch of farming which naturally requires the largest capital to be embarked in it, and Government selects that and artificially increases the capital to be staked. Here is a business that at best can only pay on a cycle of years, Government selects that and artificially extends the cycle on which only it can answer, and renders it almost impossible for it to answer under any circumstances. Here is a branch of farming that is naturally the most speculative, Government selects that and artificially multiplies 1424 and aggravates the risks and losses attending it, till it is converted into a perfect lottery in which the blanks are very numerous, and the prizes few and far between. Can it be wondered at, if, under such circumstances, the growers are always in difficulties, whether their crops are good or bad. If the crops are large, prices are low and duties heavy, and the planters are distressed to pay them; if there is a dearth, the grower having been compelled to sell the superabundant crop of the previous year at a sacrifice, in order to pay the duty, found himself deprived of the means of profiting by the turn of the market. And what is the value of this objectionable revenue? Till last year the Excise duty was £1 per cwt., and at that rate it has yielded £300,000 a year on an average of twenty years. I take twenty years, because with so fluctuating a commodity it is necessary to take a long average in order to arrive at an estimate of any value. Last year it was reduced to 14s. per cwt., and, judging from past averages, that rate might, on a succession of years, be estimated to produce about £200,000 a year; but, owing to the uncertain nature of the commodity, the Excise would yield £400,000 one year, and perhaps not more than £40,000 the next. There is a saying in bop growing counties that—Till St. James's-day be come and gone,There may be hops, or there may be none.That refers to old St. James's day, which falls in August. It is impossible for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when settling his Budget in February, to say what he may derive from the hops to be produced in autumn. Last year, in the month of February, the right hon. Gentleman stated several times over that the amount which he estimated to receive from the growing crop in 1860 was £300,000. The result has not at all borne out the estimate. The actual amount was £69,000, and the right hon. Gentleman can calculate upon receiving only a very small portion of that £69,000 within the financial year 1860–61, as he has been obliged, in consequence of the distress of the planters, to postpone payment to the financial year 1861–62. At this moment he is wringing out of the capital of the planters the arrears still due upon the crop of 1859. Why? Because the planters have had good crops for a few successive years, which the duties have converted into a perfect curse. Nobody ever heard of a farmer being ruined by having too good a crop of corn, or of hay, 1425 or too many lambs; but the effect of the hop duty is that when the grower has laboured to secure a good crop he is ruined by his very success. In fact, he becomes that standing paradox pithily described by Mr. Bacon in his able pamphlet on this question, "the victim of abundance." I said the Chancellor of the Exchequer was at this moment with difficulty wringing out of the capital of the farmers the arrears of the postponed duty of 1859. I am far from wishing to taunt the right hon. Gentleman with the postponements he has granted. He has only followed the example set him by a long line of predecessors in office. Within the last forty years the collection of the duty has been postponed somewhere about thirty times, The system of long credits and of postponements is unsound, vicious, and disgraceful. It is bad for the Exchequer, bad for the trade, and bad for other taxpayers, who naturally think that the hop-growers are favoured at their expense, Last year the right hon. Gentleman put the tax as he thought upon a sound basis. He proposed to collect it within the financial year in which it was charged, to shorten the credits, and to put a stop to the system of postponements. But in the very first year afterwards he has found it necessary, through the force of circumstances, to break through his own resolutions. There could not be a greater condemnation of the tax than this fact. But these long credits and postponements, evils as they undoubtedly are, have been found necessary as palliatives to the evils necessarily inherent in the tax. The right hon. Gentleman has only added another to the long list of failures to make this a satisfactory tax that have gone before. If the duty is to be collected at an early stage, or as soon as it is charged, the necessary effect must be to intensify all the evils already complained of, and to confine the trade to desperate men who have nothing to lose, or to a few great speculators who can afford to gamble on a gigantic scale. I am at a loss to understand why the right hon. Gentleman clings with so much pertinacity, not to say obstinacy, to this small and unreliable duty, which has not even the merit, which an indirect tax should have, of being paid in the manner least galling to the parties affected by it. The right hon. Gentleman is a fearless, some people call him a reckless, financier. It cannot be that the right hon. Gentleman is afraid of dealing 1426 with the hop duties on account of their amount. Last year he did not hesitate to deal with taxes that amounted in the aggregate to millions; but when he came to the small sum that composed the hop duty, he hesitated and doubted, and reduced that one-third. He does not belong to that school of financiers who think it wise to levy a revenue by means of a number of small taxes upon a number of different commodities. Quite the contrary. He made it his boast last year that he had swept off 371 articles from the tariff; but if it be a good policy to abolish small Customs' duties, surely it is much more so to do away with small Excise duties that impose restrictions of so many kinds on internal trade. He will not surely, in this instance, make use of that oracular saying he uttered the other night, that "the abatement of one man's taxation is the increase of another's," for in the case of duties on articles of consumption it by no means follows that remission is necessarily attended by loss to the revenue which must be compensated by increased taxation in some other quarter. Since 1844 a number of Excise duties have been abolished, among others those on glass, bricks, soap, and vinegar, amounting altogether to £2,500,000; and at the same time additional duties have been imposed upon spirits, estimated to yield £2,000,000. But, in the aggregate, although Excise duties have been remitted to a larger amount than the amount of spirit duties added, the result has been, since 1844, that the excise duties, which then yielded £17,500,000, have since produced £22,000,000. This shows that the remission of Excise duties is not necessarily followed by a loss of revenue. Remit the hop duty, and the hop growers themselves being more prosperous, and the tradesmen they deal with, and the labourers they employ, sharing in that prosperity, they will all have more money to spend on tea, on sugar, on malt, on tobacco, and on other dutiable commodities, and the revenue will gain in one direction what it lopes in another. But if it be thought a bold experiment to abolish a tax on the chance of an increased revenue to be derived from other duties, at all events the reduction of a tax on the chance of increased revenue from its very reduction was by no means so hazardous. But as far as the consumer is concerned, the abolition of the hop duty would only be a reduction of the duties on beer. For 1427 what is the hop duty? It is merely an unwholesome excrescence of the malt duty. It is thought difficult, if not almost impossible, according to the traditions of the Board of Inland Revenue, to tax satisfactorily the manufactured article, beer; and therefore it is taxed through its main ingredient, malt; but the Exchequer, not satisfied with this, goes further, and apparently out of wanton love of taxation—taxation for the sake of taxation—imposes a small duty, with all the expense, restrictions, and unpopularity of a separate Excise, upon a raw material of beer. I believe that if the hop duty were taken off the consumer would get a benefit either in the price or the quality of beer; that consumption would be stimulated, and the increased revenue derived from malt would in a short time, if not in the first year, compensate the Exchequer. I have good grounds for this belief. There used to be three duties on beer, the beer duty proper, the malt, and the hop duties; in 1829 the three together yielded in round numbers £7,000,000. The beer duty proper, which alone amounted to £3,000,000, was swept off in 1830; but since its abolition the two remaining duties have yielded as much as the three did formerly. This is the more remarkable, as since 1855 malt, for purposes of distillation, is allowed to be made duty free, and thus, according to the latest returns, upwards of 600,000 quarters of malt have been withdrawn from the revenue account. When the beer duty was abolished, the number of quarters of malt charged with duty immediately rose from three millions and a half to four millions and a half, and the revenue sprang up from four to five millions. Some small Excise duties, that on chicory for instance, are defended avowedly on the ground that they serve to protect an important Customs' revenue. Is this the case with the hop duty? I will tell the House what has been the Customs' revenue derived from foreign hops charged for home consumption since 1846. The duty has been, in round numbers, 1846, £2,500; 1847, £5,000; 1848, £11; 1849, £7,785; 1850, £12,000; 1851, £225; 1352, £300; 1853, £50,000; 1854, £102,000; 1855, £40,000; 1856, £25,000; 1857, £32,000; 1858, £37,000; 1859, £4,000; 1860, £9,600. This has been certainly under a system of protection, when the Customs' duty was 45s. per cwt., rather more than double the amount of the Excise. Still it suffices to show that 1428 there can have been no important trade in foreign hops to spring up. In fact, in the year 1854, every opportunity was given for the importation of foreign hops, had there been any great quantity to be derived from abroad. In that year there was a very short crop at home; there was a good crop abroad. The Customs' duty was, in the interest of the consumer, reduced temporarily to a level with the Excise, that is, to £1 per cwt. Hops in England were at a famine price; there was every stimulus to importation; but the Customs' revenue derived from foreign hops amounted only to £100,000; and it is never likely, under any circumstances, to exceed that to any amount. Growers on the Continent or in America will not plant with a view solely of supplying the English market, when that market is usually amply supplied, and more than supplied, by the produce of our own gardens. All that can be expected is that when there is a short crop at home and a large crop abroad, the surplus of foreign countries may come in to supply our wants. If anything can bring about a steady supply from foreign countries, and permanently reduce the price of hops at home, it is the setting the trade completely free. I say of the Excise and Customs combined what I said before of the Excise alone—that the trade in a commodity so precarious and variable is too delicate and too sensitive to bear the additional derangements which any legislative trammels, be they ever so well devised, necessarily entail. Set the home and foreign produce both completely free; that and that alone will steady the trade, so far as the nature of things admits of its being steady; that will, as far as is possible, mitigate the alternations of dearth and excess under which we suffer; the deficiencies of one year and of one country will then be, in some degree, balanced by the superabundance of another; the grower will be relieved and the consumer benefited. There will then he less need and less temptation in scarce years to have recourse to quassia, gentian, broom tops, fern leaves, ground ivy, picric acid, grains of paradise, strychnia, cocculus indicus, & c, which we are told on high chemical authority are used in beer as substitutes for hops. Mr. Phillips, the analyst to the Board of Revenue, states in the fourth Report of the Commissioners of Excise, that beer is extensively adulterated by the use of other ingredients in lieu of hops; but adds that such adulterations are 1429 very difficult of detection, and if the chemist detects them, can scarcely ever be proved to the satisfaction of a court of law. I revert to the Excise duty, which is the main point, and I say of it—it is a duty trifling in amount, unreliable in amount, difficult to be collected, intensely unpopular, unequal in its pressure, heaviest at times when the tax-payer is least able to meet its pressure, heavy in its incidence in an inverse ratio to the ability of the individual to bear it, a blundering duty falling where it was never intended to fall; and, moreover, owing to the nature of the commodity on which it is levied, that a duty never can be made to work satisfactorily to the Exchequer, or fairly to the planter. I go further, and say that even if you could put it on ever so satisfactory a basis it would be still an absurdity and a blunder to maintain it; because it is contrary to common sense to keep up the machinery of a separate Excise to tax an article that is already largely and reliably taxed by means of another machinery. Sir, there are objections to be urged against every tax; but I defy any one to show a tax that combines so many elements of a bad tax and atones fur them by such slender advantages. I speak strongly against the duty, but not more strongly than I am warranted by high authorities in doing. Speaking of the Excise duty on hops in 1852, the right hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle said—The cost of collection is great, the amount received is small; and the impost is, I believe, vexatious and onerous to the grower, as it certainly is onerous to the consumer. The interest of the consumer certainly is that the entire tax should be remitted.With respect to the cost of collection, I will here observe that the hop duty is not collected by the regular staff of the Board of Inland Revenue, but by some 270 officers appointed solely for this particular purpose; so that whatever the cost of collection is, by the remission of the duty the whole expense attending its collection would be saved to the country. Again, in 1852, the hon. Member for Rochdale said—He never thought, after the great doings of Peel, we should ever have a half and half Chancellor of the Exchequer making two bites at a cherry. Here is a most exceptional tax—the only tax you have collected upon the produce of the fields and gardens of the country—worthy no doubt of Persia or of Turkey, but too ridiculous for this England of 1852. It has all the evils that can attach to any tax; it is cumbrous and costly in its collection, it is uncertain in its amount, it bears with most unequal pressure on 1430 different parts of the country, it falls with the severest pressure upon the poorest soils and the poorest qualities of hops.The late Lord Aberdeen, when Prime Minister, said to a deputation that waited upon him to urge the repeal of the duty, in the hearing of the right hon. Gentleman, who was his Chancellor of the Exchequer—That no doubt the course advocated by the repealers was the only rational way of dealing with the matter. It was impossible to deny that there were very great objections to the tax, and that if it did not exist already no one would think of putting it on.Again, he said—The tax is contrary to common sense.The right hon. Baronet the Secretary for India said, speaking of the hop duty in the House, in 1852—If there be a sound principle with regard to an excise duty it is this; do not maintain an excise duty unless it brings in a considerable accession of revenue.When Chancellor of the Exchequer he had attempted to defend the tax, but his praise was of that faint kind which carries condemnation with it. The right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary when he was appealed to listened to the arguments, smiled grimly, but advanced no argument in defence of the duty. I do not ask the right hon. Gentleman to cut off a necessary branch of the revenue. I do not ask him to part with this tax if he cannot spare it; but only that, if he is about to remit taxation or to shift the burdens of the country, he will provide for the extinction of this obnoxious duty. I may be told the time is inopportune because our financial burdens must be great. I say the time is opportune, because if our burdens must be heavy it is the more important that they should be wisely and justly imposed. I know well the ability of the right hon. Gentleman "to make the worse appear the better cause," but I beg the House not to be led away by his refined ingenuity, his brilliant eloquence, or by any special pleading or sophistries; but to judge and decide this case fairly upon its merits.
§ SIR BROOK BRIDGES,
in seconding the Motion said, I appeal to the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether his doors have not been beset, whether his table has not been covered with representations upon the subject of the hop duty; in fact, whether he has not found this tax to be the most tiresome, the most plaguing one, and the 1431 most constant bore with which he has to deal. [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER: "Hear, hear."] Is it not the galled jade that winces, and do not these facts prove how oppressive and how obnoxious this duty is? It is not the object of the hop growers of the county which I represent to ask for anything unfair to the rest of the community. They may be told they can give up the cultivation of hops if it ceases to be profitable, but a certain portion of the country is suited to the growth of hops, and the hop growers ought not to be told to give up the growth of an article which is beneficial to the community. The hop duty has some of the worst features of a tax. It is variable, inconvenient in its collection, and of its amount it is impossible to form a correct calculation. I was delighted to hear the Chancellor of the Exchequer state the other night that the merits of a tax depended upon the proportion that came into the coffers of the State as compared with the amount paid by the taxpayer. Judged by this test, the hop duty is ill-devised and wasteful. A large army of persons are appointed for its collection who are precisely the same in number whether the crop is large or small. They walk the same number of miles and have the same duties to perform, except in the figures in which their return is made. Last year if one of these persons were asked, "Well, what return have you to-day?" he usually replied, "What is the use of my walking to and fro? There are no hops grown in the country." Thus the Government have to pay the same amount as in the most prosperous years to persons who come back to tell them that no hops are grown. The tax not only does not fill the coffers of the State; it weighs on a very meritorious class of persons. The precarious nature of the crop, and the various enemies by which it is attacked, are well expressed in the old distich—First the flea, next the fly,Then the louse, and then I die.The Chancellor of the Exchequer is to be added to this list of destructives, for he came in at the end of it all, and if the hop growers got over the flea, the fly, and the louse, then the Chancellor of the Exchequer came in and took the little profit they might otherwise realise.
§ SIR JOHN SHELLEY
believed that there had been no subject for many years on which the House had so little information as the hop tax, and its bearing on 1432 the cultivator. His hon. Friends had addressed the House as the representatives of districts in which it was extensively grown. The tax under discussion was an exception to the rule, that a tax was paid by the consumer, and his constituents were, therefore, not much interested in the matter. But, as an owner of property in a district were hops were grown, and as an unfortunate grower of hops for a quarter of a century, he begged to corroborate the statement of his hon Friends. Chancellors of the Exchequer used to tell the hop growers that when they were agreed it would be time enough to ask for this remission. But then, thanks to the course pursued by his right hon. Friend, the hop growers were now reduced to the state and condition of a "happy family," and they were agreed in saying that they had no fear of the foreigners if their arms were freed from the shackles of this tax. By the Budget of last year, the right hon. Gentleman proposed a tax of 14s. upon the foreigner as against 15s. paid by the home-grower, on the ground that the extra shilling added to the freight put the home grower on a fair footing with the foreign grower. There were, however, two or three circumstances much in favour of the latter. He had the power of bonding his hops, while the English grower was obliged to pay the duty at two fixed periods, whether his hops were sold or not. If the foreigner did not sell his hops he could take them back. He had also another "pull" over the English grower. He said to the brewer, "My hops are in bond, and you need not pay for them until you put them in your copper." But the home grower was obliged immediately to call upon the purchaser to pay down for his hops. The English growers now said what he thought for a quarter of a century they ought to have said—that they were ready to compete with all the world. It happened that he grew hops in a part of the country that suffered most from this duty. The Weald of Sussex grew a hop that was less good in quality, although larger in quantity, than that of other districts. But at the same time that class of hops was necessary for certain brewers. All their expenses, however, increased with the duty; and, as the duty was payable on a fixed day, every one was obliged to sell to meet the duty, and then down went the market. He had been a hop grower for twenty-five years, and on making up his account he found that he 1433 had lost exactly the amount which had gone into the Exchequer, and that if it had not been for the fiscal payment there would have been a profit. Could he be charged, then, with "an ignorant impatience of taxation" when he complained of a tax which was unfair in its incidence in respect to one cultivator and another? Some time ago his right hon. Friend said that the best way to benefit the labouring classes was to employ them. In that case the cultivation of hops must be extremely beneficial to the labouring classes, for in no other part of farming was there so much employment of labour, and it was divided minutely over every portion of the year. It was had been that hop-picking was demoralizing; but, whether that remark might be true in some districts of Kent where there was a large importation of roughs into the hop-gardens during the season of hop-picking, it was not true with regard to the regular agricultural labourer. The first operation after picking was stripping the poles and putting them away. Then came the wood-cutting and stripping off the bark—which latter operation was done by the women and children. These and other employments extended through the winter. With spring came the cultivation of the hop, which was done entirely by spade husbandry—the labourer earning good wages by task-work. Then came the poling and tying—the latter of which was done by women and children; and lastly, the hop-picking, in which the labourers and their families earned enough to buy their clothes, and partly to pay their rent. Therefore, he called on the friends of the agricultural labourers in that House to do what they could to get rid of a tax, absorbing a vast amount of the farmer's capital, which would otherwise be expended on labour in his district. Everybody knew that hop growing was the most precarious cultivation that could be. He had seen one of his hop gardens so much injured by wind in the course of a single night that he had sat down and calculated that it would not be worth his while, with the duty staring him in the face, to pick the hops at all. In all other agricultural products it was the interest of the farmer to get as large a crop as possible; the hop-grower, however, prayed that he might only get half a crop, unless he were selfish, and then, perhaps, he might pray that he might have a full one, and his neighbour none at all. The difficulty of obtaining a drawback of duty was such that hop-growers 1434 had been known to make a false affidavit that they had sold their hops to a foreign purchaser, and then to make an arrangement with the captain of the vessel to throw them overboard. All those points were well worthy of consideration, and should lead to a withdrawal of this wretched tax. From a Return respecting the hop duty, it appeared that from the year 1800 to 1858 the duty had either been altered, postponed, or modified twenty or thirty times. He was sorry to find that the right hon. Gentleman the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, with all his talents and ingenuity, moved in the same wretched groove as the bunglars who had gone before him, and that his tinkering was no better than the tinkering which had occurred previously. Still, he believed that his right hon. Friend, if he had his own way, would remit the tax altogether, for it really would not bear any further patching up. In the name, then, of the growers of hops, and of the agricultural labourers in the hop districts, he appealed to his right hon. Friend to agree to the Motion; and, as far as he was concerned, he was prepared to back him up in any necessary retrenchment of the public expenditure.
said, having the honour to represent a large hop producing constituency, I cannot confine myself to a silent vote on this occasion. It is not easy to conceive what are the motives which induce the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer to resist the Resolution before the House. To admit the utter viciousness of this tax and yet still to maintain it for the sake of revenue, when at the same time so far from being a certain source of revenue, it has only tended to mislead the Chancellor of the Exchequer and to embarrass and disturb his financial calculations, is a principle of action which I for one cannot very well understand. There is one very important point which the House will do well to consider and that is, that whatever estimate the right hon. Gentleman may make as to his future sources of revenue, so long as it or any portion of it is based upon the supposed amount he will receive from this impost, his calculations will be framed upon a most unsound and insecure basis. Nothing is better calculated to show the treacherous character of the tax than the fact that, while the Chancellor of the Exchequer calculated on a duty this year of £300,000, he will not collect £70,000. Whatever may be the 1435 deficit with which the right hon. Gentleman will have to grapple, not less than £230,000 will be owing to his reliance on a duty which is as much a lottery to the Exchequer as the prices of the crop are to the producer. At the time the right hon. Gentleman came down to the House to introduce his Budget the hops might be in a most flourishing condition, promising a most abundant yield, and the right hon. Gentleman might feel perfectly secure that he would reap from them a handsome revenue; but hardly might the words have passed from his lips before a blight might fall upon the crop, and all his expectations be ruined for that year. It is manifest, then, that until the right hon. Gentleman can control the wind and the weather any estimate he may frame upon the probable quantity of hops will be a mere fancy estimate, and his calculations nothing more than vague speculations. It has been said that we ought not to demand a reduction of taxation at the present crisis when there will probably be a considerable deficit; but for my part I think that renders it a most opportune moment in which to call the attention of the House to the insecurity and utter unsafe-ness of this source from which the right hon. Gentleman draws his revenue. What can be more fluctuating than this tax upon hops? Sometimes the duty is as high as £700,000, sometimes as low as £40,000. Is it not obvious, then, to every hon. Member, that it is utterly impossible for any Chancellor of the Exchequer to frame any accurate calculations in which the hop duty is an element? Moreover, in addition to this uncertainty, nothing can exceed the enormous inequality of the pressure of this duty. The amount of Excise duty raised on hops during the last four years was about £2,000,000, and that duty was raised upon from 43,000 to 45,000 acres of land, and the inequality of the pressure arises from the fact that in the different districts the price of hops varied from 40s. to £19, and in some seasons up to £40, yet the duty is one uniform amount charged upon all hops alike. I can state an instance of a planter who, on fifty acres, has lost in one year £1,000; but to give a general notion of its extreme pressure in successive years of large crops, heavy duties and low prices, I will add that the average dead loss per acre on Sussex hop-lands has been £18 or £19 during the last four years. It has been said that we are in the same position as 1436 the class of persons on whom the malt duty is levied. I totally deny the parity of the two things. The malt duty is one which not only brings in a large amount of revenue, but is perfectly sure as regards its collection, in both which points it is entirely distinct to the hop duty. But the greatest point of difference is this. The duty on malt is a duty imposed upon a manufactured article, whereas the duty on hops is an imposition on the raw material. Of course, the right hon. Gentleman will meet our demands by saying, "Why, Gentlemen, if hop-growing is so very unprofitable, and if it subjects you to such intolerable hardships, do you not give up the plant, and devote your energies to the cultivation of some other plant of a more lucrative character?" That, however, is not a fair argument to employ, and for this reason, that if we are taxed upon fair and equal principles the disadvantageous circumstances under which the hop farmers labour will no longer continue to exist; and what we complain of is that a most unsound and vicious principle of taxation is applied to us which is applied to no other interest in the kingdom. When the right hon. Gentleman told us that we ought not to grow hops it might be retorted upon him that last year he came down to the House, and, in a most eloquent and seductive speech, dwelt in the most impressive terms upon the duty of relieving from taxation those products in the manufacture of which there was a great employment of labour. I will not for a moment endeavour to insinuate that the Chancellor of the Exchequer entertains the slightest feeling of hostility to the agriculturists, but when I find the right hon. Gentleman taxing beyond their energies a class of farmers who, as it has been shown, are peculiarly distinguished for their employment of labour, while he at the same time expressed himself anxious to relieve a class of the manufacturing interest from taxation on the express ground that it would employ a vast amount of labour, I must say that if the right hon. Gentleman does not intend to act with hostility to the agricultural interest, he appears to be guilty of the greatest inconsistency, while at the same time he is guilty of great injustice to labour itself. As the Resolution before the House deals with the Customs' duties as well as the Excise, I will not refrain from remarking that it is difficult to understand on what ground the Government 1437 desires the retention of the latter. The import duty of 20s. is neither a protection to the home producer, nor a large nor reliable source of revenue to the Chancellor of the Exchequer; the variable state of the home crop produced corresponding vacillation in the import duties on foreign produce. Within the last three years the imported hops once rose to 16,000 cwt., then sank the next year to about 1,800 cwt. One year the Customs' duties produced £36,000, the following year a little over £3,000. I need not remind the House that the Customs' duty was then at 45s., which the right hon. Gentleman has since reduced to 20s. I would also remark that the amount paid by Government as drawback on exported hops within the last four years has exceeded by £4,000 the whole amount derived from the Customs' duties in that period. The right hon. Gentleman may tell us that as a favour he has imposed a differential duty of Is. upon the growers of foreign hops, but when we know, as we do, that the English hop growers are always obliged from the necessities of the case, to pour their hops into the market whatever may be the price, while the foreign hop growers can hold back, it is obvious that that which the right hon. Gentleman would term a protection is nothing more than a preventative against the extinction of hop cultivation in this country, and is not accepted by the home producer as an equivalent for the privilege of bonding now given to the foreigner, by means of which system he can choose his own opportunity for an advantageous sale, while the English grower is forced into the market in order to meet the home duty, whatever may be the prices, and however ruinously low they may be. Altogether this is a tax so unfair and so utterly indefensible upon the grounds of justice and equality, while at the same its results are so uncertain as to render it almost valueless as a reliable source of revenue, that I am not without hopes that the Chancellor of the Exchequer may for once listen to the just demands of the hop planters.
§ MR. BRIGHT
I think that, whatever difference of opinion may be shown, Sir, when you invite us into the lobbies, there is none as to the manner in which this question has been brought forward by the hon. Gentleman near me, or in which it has been discussed by the hon. Gentlemen who have followed him. It is to me very gratifying to hear good speeches from 1438 agricultural Members. I find that when they have a good case they talk nearly as well as hon. Gentlemen who are connected with other branches of industry. I do not know that I have heard to-night a single sentence, or a single argument with which I should be disposed to find fault. The case is a good one; and the Chancellor of the Exchequer will have a difficulty in said anything against it. It has been said by the hon. Gentleman who introduced the subject, quoting from an hon. Friend of mine not here, that the hop duty has more bad qualities than any other tax could possibly possess. I fear there are many taxes which might have somewhat the same character imputed to them. We are all agreed, however, that this tax is a bad one; and the question is, not whether it shall be a permanent source of revenue, because the House must feel that it never can be permanent. But the question submitted to us by the hon. Gentleman is something in the nature of a pledge, for he asks us by Resolution to declare that the maintenance of the duties on hops is impolitic, and that in the remission of taxation or the adjustment of financial burdens provision should be made for the removal of such duties. I conclude that what he wants is this:—That the very first £200,000 or £300,000 or £400,000, or whatever amount is necessary for this abolition—the very first sum which the Chancellor of the Exchequer can by any possibility spare—he is to devote to the abolition of the hop duty. I do not blame those who have that kind of interest in the question which my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster (Sir John Shelley) has, or of other Members who represent constituencies who are deeply interested in it. I do not complain of the course which they have taken, because we know that when we are to get anything from the Chancellor of the Exchequer we are not to be mealy-mouthed in our mode of expressing our opinion. But I will ask the House this:—Whether it is disposed to pass this Resolution and to make this pledge? I am as much against this tax as anybody here. I believe it is as bad a tax as it has been described. I believe there does not live the man so stupid who as Chancellor of the Exchequer would attempt for the first time to propose a tax so odious and absurd as this. But, notwithstanding all this, and believing as I do that but a very short time will elapse before it is abolished, yet I am not prepared, 1439 in the position in which we stand, to give a pledge that the first money which the Chancellor of the Exchequer can spare shall be devoted to the repeal of this duty. My hon. Friend the Member for Westminster admitted that it is only just now that the hop growers have become a happy family. For many years the hon. Member for Rochdale, who has been quoted, and myself were beset by men in the lobby who wanted something done with regard to the hop duty. There was then a protecting duty on foreign hops, and that always seems to blind the eyes of every man connected with it. Last year it blinded the eyes of the paper makers. Tears before it blinded the eyes of the hop growers. As long as the protecting duty remained, the hop growers of Kent had not the same interest as the hop grower of Sussex. The growers never came before the House until now with the authority of a united interest, and nothing was done. Since last year the scales have dropped from their eyes, and now they see it in the light in which we, as Free-traders, have seen it for many years, and they come and ask the House that this tax should be abolished. But I must tell my hon. Friend that it is not common for persons who have just found out that a tax is bad, and who have just agreed to ask for its repeal, to obtain that repeal on the first asking. That is a sort of courtship which I can assure my hon. Friend is not very common with Chancellors of the Exchequer. As this is the first year the hop growers have asked in this plain and resolute voice, though I should, be glad if they had it, yet they would be much better off than their neighbours if they had it this year, and they should be very well satisfied if they get it next year or the year after. The question cannot stand debates like this tonight. The reading of this debate tomorrow must necessarily convince everybody out of doors who is not already convinced, and in another Session they will in all probability come with a force which the Chancellor of the Exchequer of that day will not be able to resist. The difficulty in my way is the pledge. What is our position in this question of taxes? For anything I know it may be true that hon. Friends near me and hon. Gentlemen opposite have made it all right with the House of Lords. They may have ascertained that if the question should be taken up by the Chancellor of the Exchequer 1440 and a Bill introduced repealing the hop duty the House of Lords will agree, in point of fact, with the opinion of this House, and consent that the amount of taxation shall be repealed. But we are not certain of that. We know that there is a question on which the House of Lords have not agreed with this House, and I undertake to say on behalf of the House of Commons that, however humbled we may have been by what took place last Session, we are not yet come to that point of supplication when we shall consent to send to the other House a Bill for the repeal of any other tax until the House has sent up another Bill for the abolition of the Excise duty on paper. I might compare the paper duty with this duty, but that is not my object, because I do not want to show that any tax upon its own grounds is worse than this tax. But I may tell the hop growers that if they have the exciseman for a few weeks in fine weather in autumn, the paper-maker has the exciseman fifty-two weeks in the year, and that he is just as great a nuisance to the papermaker as he can be to the hop grower; and, further, that*the papermaker has applied to have his duty abolished for many years, and that last year he was treated in a manner in which no manufacturer in this country has heretofore been treated by Parliament. I think, therefore, that he has a right to come here first, and that the House of Commons cannot pass by his ease for the purpose of considering any other case, however grievous it may be. I will not refer to the burdens on the press, or to the injuries done to education by the existence of the Excise duty on paper. I do not pretend to make it appear that those injuries are worse than the injuries from the tax on. hops. I will place them, if you like, precisely on the same ground. But I durst appeal to hon. Gentlemen who are most in favour of the abolition of the duty on hops, and I think I may say, under the circumstances of the paper trade, and under the circumstances of this House of Commons, it is fitting that the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his colleagues should discuss the question of last year, and the incidence and burden of the Excise on paper before they take into consideration this grievous tax, which has been brought under our notice to-night. It is not necessary that I should enlarge on that point. Of the serious damage which has been done to this House of Parliament by the transaction of last year 1441 I know not that anything which the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or the Government, or the House itself can do can set up the character of the House and place us exactly in the position in which we were last year. But this I do say, that they will do what now is in their power to do if they take the first opportunity of reasserting the right which they embodied in a Resolution last year, and of again passing a Bill for the abolition of the Excise duty on paper. And when that is once done, and the Bill has passed both Houses of Parliament, then I think I shall not have the smallest objection to vote for the strongest Resolution, and for the most instantaneous action on the part of the House of Commons on behalf of the abolition of this duty. But I should say for myself that I was base as a Member of the House of Commons, and that the House was unworthy of its history, and would be unworthy of the slightest confidence on the part of the people of England, if it did not on the first opportunity assert its ancient right, and teach those who for a moment have forgotten it that here, and here alone, rests the power to tax the people of England, and to determine what shall be raised from the people to satisfy the exigencies of the Crown for the service of the year.
§ VISCOUNT HOLMESDALE
—Sir, As representing a district which has been alluded to in the course of this debate, and which is, in no slight degree, interested in this question, I must ask leave to trespass shortly on the time of the House while referring to a few observations that have been made. The hon. Baronet, the Member for Westminster, in speaking of the district in which he resides, observed that while he could, for his part, declare that the immorality spoken of in connection with the hop-picking did not exist, he could not answer for Kent where a large number of strangers are annually collected for the hop-picking. Well, I have made inquiries with respect to this alleged immorality from the employers and from various other parties, who, if it had existed, would certainly have been aware of it, and I am justified from their answer in stating it to be a fiction. The alleged immorality does not exist. As regards what fell from the hon. Member for Birmingham, while I must decline to follow him over the whole of the ground he has traversed, I must say that his argument seemed to me to amount simply to this: 1442 because the papermakers cannot get their duty remitted, the hop growers shall not. Why, Sir, this is the old argument, if I may use the expression, of the dog in the manger. The hon. Member did not attempt to show that the duty upon paper is more onerous or unjust than that levied on hops; he did not attempt to prove that the small sum produced by the hop duty is so imperatively required by the country that it cannot be spared. Let us look at the difference between the two duties. The paper duty produces nearly £1,500,000 a year. The hop duty, in one year it is true, produced £728,123; but fifteen years ago, it fell to £62,253. In the five years from 1855 to 1859 it produced on an average over £300,000 per annum. And, last year, it fell to little over £69,000. How can this duty, variable as I have shown it to be, be placed in the same category with a tax which produces so large and certain a revenue as the paper duty? It must be remembered, too, that this hop duty is a tax on the raw material. The papermaker can regulate his produce according to the estimated demand—the hop planter never. The hop-planter cannot predict what the yield of a given acreage may be. Why, in two nights the better part of his crop may be blasted. But it is not in the years of deficient crops that the planter.' is most to be pitied. A large crop means a large duty. This large duty forces the planters simultaneously into the market; they must sell, at whatever price, to pay the duty; and the result is, the factors, who are well aware of this, will not give the price for hops they would otherwise command. Last year, certainly, the Chancellor of the Exchequer slightly reduced the Excise duties. But, in so doing, he substituted one large payment for two small ones; so that the interference with the trade is not mitigated, but rather increased. Besides, formerly—when there was still an instalment of the tax due—the Chancellor of the Exchequer could calculate with certainty on what he had to come in from the tax. Now, unless the Chancellor of the Exchequer is Zadkiel, or one of those persons who can sec into futurity, I cannot see how he can count on any certain amount from the hop duty. Last year the right hon. Gentleman took credit for £300,000 from this source, while the actual produce was only £69,000. He might again take £300,000 for next year; but who should say that it might not be lower even than £69,000? The proof that 1443 it presses on the planter is to be found in the number of times he has been compelled to come to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to ask for a postponement of the period of payment. I am not defending the postponement system. I believe that had that system never been allowed to exist, it would have been better in the end for all parties; but I maintain that the frequency of the demand for postponement shows how oppressively the tax weighs upon the planters. I have received a communication which demonstrates the unfair nature of this tax. It states that in a part of the country there were 135 tenants, occupying 18,500 acres, of which 1,477 acres were under hops. The average duty paid was £19,420 per annum. The gross rental of the whole of those estates was £15,146. After deducting 10 per cent for cottage and other expenses, the net rental coming to the landlord was £13,632 per annum. So that while the duty was upwards of £19,000 per annum, the landlord's rent was only £13,632 per annum. In other words, the hop duty came to 20s. 6d. per acre—the rental to only 14s. 2d. Can there be a stronger proof of the enormous sum thus wrung from those whom I have the honour to represent? Well, now, the hop planters (united for the first time) come to the House to ask merely for free trade to enable them to compete with the foreigner. It is true the Chancellor of the Exchequer has granted a countervailing duty of 1s, per cwt.; but does he imagine that to be sufficient? Does he imagine that this paltry shilling will countervail the enormous advantage the foreigner enjoys in bonding his hops? Free trade is all we seek. There sit in this House many Gentlemen who, in times past, have been engaged in forcing free trade on the producer for the consumer's benefit. Now that the case is reversed will they be deaf to our prayer? We make it no secret that this is a producer's question; but I trust that they—I trust that this House—will not in common justice (small as a community though we be) deny us our plain, simple request for free trade.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
Sir, I am bound to say, in common fairness, that the case against the hop duty has been stated to-night, both by my hon. Friends behind me and the noble Lords and hon. Gentlemen opposite, with very great ability; and it is impossible that greater justice could have been done 1444 to the case in their hands. In what I have to say I shall make certain reserves and qualifications; but, speaking with perfect openness and sincerity, I shall not disguise that upon various points I subscribe in a great degree to what they have advanced. What I shall urge upon the House, and what I shall beg the House to bear in mind in coming to a decision is that what we are called on to debate to-night is not the merits of the hop duty or the policy of continuing it as a tax. I shall ask no one to-night to give an opinion on the merits of the hop duty; but, without raising that question, I shall endeavour to state conclusive grounds against adopting this Motion. So far as the hop duty is concerned I fairly admit that it is open to these charges. It is unequal in its produce as a fiscal resource; it is unequal in its pressure upon different classes of hops in a degree which, although it may be easy to find parallel and even stronger cases in commodities of various kinds, may yet, with regard to a domestic commodity, be fairly called peculiar. It tends to aggravate distress in a year of low prices, and in a trade where reverses are already constant and severe; and, I may also add that it is open to objection as being levied on an article of raw produce. These are objections which may fairly be sustained in their degree; but there are two objections taken against it which are not sustainable. It has been said that this is a costly duty as regards collection. On the contrary, the money derived from the hop duties, so far as collection is concerned, is among the cheapest which come into the Exchequer. The noble Lord who spoke last, with great ability, spoke of the trade being destroyed by Excise restrictions. But let us give the hop duty its due. There are no restrictions which in any degree interfere appreciably with production, and as the hop duty is distinguished unfavourably as being levied on an article in a state of inception and not when it is brought to market, so, on the other hand, it is favourably distinguished from other duties—the malt duty, for instance, or the paper duty, more than the malt duty or the duty on spirits, more even than the duty on paper—as not interfering with the operations of the producer. My hon. Friend who made this Motion spoke of the fickleness of the plant, but I say to those who support him, do not be led away by the supposition that you will put an end to distress in the hop districts 1445 by the abolition of the duty. My hon Friend, the Member for Westminster (Sir John Shelley) stated very fairly that he himself having been a hop-planter for twenty-five years, had undergone considerable losses; but as an exhibition of a general rule his statement was incomplete, because he will not contradict me when I say that there is an important element in this case which is rarely brought into view in debate, and which has not yet been mentioned—I mean the interest of the landlord in promoting hop cultivation, not on account of the special rent that he gets for his grounds, but on account of the ready market which is thereby offered him for his underwood. That is an element without which we cannot understand the amount of inducement there has been to promote this hop cultivation. I will not enter into the question with regard to the morality or immorality arising from the concourse of people collected by the hop-picking, but I will look at it simply as a trading question; and, looking at it as a trading question the real truth is that this cultivation is unhappily distinguished from every other agricultural product by the extraordinary reverses which it offers to those who pursue the trade. In one year a man's crop is not worth picking; in the next year he may have £100 per acre, clear of all expenses, in his pocket. In point of fact hop cultivation is a lottery. I do not attempt to disguise anything connected with it. The duty acts as a deduction from the prizes and an aggravation of the blanks. But when there is a year of distress it would be a gross delusion for the hop-planters to suppose that the main cause is the operation of the duty. I cannot accept the amount of the duty as being that at which the hon. Member for Sussex (Mr. Dodson) placed it. He spoke of it as being £200,000; and in order to reduce it so low, he went back to a time for striking his averages when the average crop was much less than it is now. He also omitted to take the Customs' duties on foreign hops into account. Stating the facts as fairly as I can, I should say that the average amount of the duty would be from £300,000 to £350,000; but I fully admit that it is uncertain, though not so uncertain as you would suppose if you look only to the extraordinary variations of the British crop, because when there is a low crop here a considerable amount of revenue is derived from the Customs' duties. But 1446 while I admit that it is an uncertain element of the revenue, I do not think we should on that account do well to part with it; because, in the case of a country like this, uncertainties upon minor elements of the revenue are really very small in their effect on the general results, except under peculiar circumstances. The hon. Member for Sussex was, I thought, much too sanguine in his anticipations of the public and general results which were to follow from abolition. He compared this case with the repeal of the duty on soap, bricks, glass, and other articles. So far as regards the general public I know of no duty in the repeal of which the general public has so little interest as this. It is precisely one of those small amounts, difficult to trace in their incidence, the repeal of which, no doubt, ultimately comes round to the public benefit, yet let not the House deceive itself; this is not like the case where we have been able by the removal of an impost comparatively small to give greater freedom to trade, to open new and extensive sources of employment, and almost immediately to bring back to the revenue, through the means of relieved enterprise and augmented wages, all we had lost. This, speaking candidly, is a producer's question; it is to him that you would be making a present of the duty, and you must consider when you enter on the question of its remission. My hon. Friend behind me says I have proved myself a fearless or a reckless financier; but at the same time I am not so reckless or so fearless as to be content to accept the Resolution he has proposed; and that on principles which I am convinced, notwithstanding the able statements we have heard to-night, will carry with them the assent of this House. There is one other incidental point I would deal with before referring to these principles. It is this:—There is a certain connection—what amount of connection I do not now say—but there is a certain amount of connection between the abolition of the hop duty and the augmentation of the malt duty. And many gentlemen who have done me the honour to visit me on the subject of the hop duty have alluded to that connection, and the facility of substituting an increase of malt duty for the hop duty within the four walls of my room; but by some strange accident that topic is always forgotten by Gentlemen connected with hops who forget nothing else when they come to debate the question in this House. I have never 1447 heard them suggest that easy and obvious method of supplying the gap. How that has happened I do not know. The case of hops has been referred to, and compassion has been excited by stating that in certain cases £10 or £15 an acre is actually levied in the shape of hop duty where the rent has been only 10s. But what if I were to adduce the case of barley? I might certainly raise some compassion for the barley growers; for I apprehend not £10 or £15, but a sum nearer £40, £50, or £60 is levied on the crop for the year when used for distillation.
The noble Lord who has just sat down said they asked for free trade and nothing less. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham must have really felt his heart leap within him when he heard a declaration of free trade from such a quarter. [Mr. BRIGHT: "Hear, hear!"] But a very important question arises here—as to what constitutes free trade. We are now happily all agreed on being Free-traders, but there is a very serious controversy remaining unsettled. The original free traders always held that the essence of free trade consisted in the abolition of preference and protection, but there is another school of politicians who give a farther development to the principle of free trade, and say that you have no free trade in any article which is subject to a tax. With them free trade is the abolition of all indirect taxes, and in that sense the noble Lord demands from this House that we should give him in hops the very small boon of free trade which he wants. I must confess I have been very glad to see within proper measure the abolition of indirect taxes which were not protective, where it could be done with due reference to the public interests and proper regard to the balance of revenue and expenditure; but if the noble Lord will go on to insist on that free trade which means relief from all taxation, I must reluctantly part company with him and leave him to perform the ulterior stages of that consummation of free trade without my having the honour to accompany him. I think I may pass in a very few words the references of my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster (Sir John Shelley) to some minor points of the case. He dwelt on the hardship to the home grower arising from the foreigner being allowed to bond his hops, and asserted that the difference of 1s. in the duty did not countervail that advantage which the foreigner possessed. We 1448 need not enter into that question now, for the 1s. is entirely prospective. At present the duty is 6s. per cwt., that amount of protection still remains on British hops. I am bound, however, to believe that the importer of hops from abroad would be very glad to abandon his privilege of bonding for the sake of that 1s. The question is one of much broader scope than my hon. Friend has described. I must object to the Motion of my hon. Friend on the ground that it is an abstract Resolution relating to the matter of finance; and I cannot but feel that this is a most serious matter. I will not go into the question whether upon any occasion, under any circumstances, the House of Commons has been justified in passing such a Resolution, because there is in existence a Resolution of this House of this character with reference to the paper duty of which of course as a Resolution of this House as well as on account of my right hon. Friend, its author, I desire to speak with due respect. But these two things I must observe—first, I think the fate of that Resolution up to the present time ought to be a warning to every prudent man how he adds more Resolutions to that class. And, then, let my hon. Friend consider what he is about to do. It is very well for him to bring the House of Commons into the assertion of an abstract Resolution, and perhaps there are hon. Gentlemen in the House who, after hearing the statements made against the hop duties this evening, would be disposed to say, "Well there is no great harm in recording an opinion against the hop duty;" but does he think nobody else will follow his example? There are other duties the repeal of which will be demanded in this House. The hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Sheridan), for example, armed with high authorities, will demand from the Government the repeal of the fire insurance duty. He will come down with his abstract Resolutions, and invite us to resolve that the maintenance of the duty is impolitic, and in any remission of taxation or adjustment of financial burdens provision should be made for the removal of such duties. Do not, in point of fact, suppose that this is a question of one Resolution; it is a question, not of one, but of a string of Resolutions that will be pressed upon you, every one of which will be supported and authorized by that which had gone before. I ask whether the result of that process—having got four or five Resolutions condemning 1449 particular sources of revenue—pressed by heavy estimates, perhaps a bad harvest, and the temper of the country disposed to extravagance rather than retrenchment, with so many solemn pledges given by the House, and all standing unredeemed—I ask whether such a result will conduce to the credit and authority of Parliament? Let me tell my hon. Friend that nothing can tend more to lower the House of Commons in the view of the public, and to weaken its authority—I will say, even in its relation with the other branches of the Legislature—than the practice of being induced, on statements of hardship, in a great degree common to all taxes, to commit itself to expressions of opinions worthless in themselves, dangerous because they give rise to hopes which probably cannot be fulfilled, and certainly of a character that lead to contrasts, comparisons, and criticisms unfavourable to the character of the House in the estimation of the country. I have spoken of the paper duty Resolution, but I confess it appears to me that the paper duty Resolution, as it stands—though I entirely hold all the opinions I previously expressed—time having only confirmed them—the Resolution on the paper duty as it stands ought to be a warning to us to induce us to hold our hands and consider how we commit ourselves to such rash proceedings. Let me appeal to hon. Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House. These proceedings I may characterize strictly as innovations. I do not think it has been the practice of the House of Commons in former times to endeavour to meet a cry out of doors, or the momentary wishes and even permanent interests of any class of the community by drawing these long bills on the future, and promising at some future time, unknown and indefinite, to redeem them. I must add that as it is in the nature of a very questionable example, to be imitated in a form more questionable, so my hon. Friend has improved on the paper duty by the form of language he uses. The paper duty Resolution merely said—and it was the mildest form in which it was possible to make trial of the principle—it merely said that it was undesirable that that duty should continue permanently to form part of the financial arrangements of the country. But my hon. Friend has the boldness to make a much enlarged demand upon us. What he claims is, that, in some manner or other this duty shall be got rid of at the very first moment when 1450 any change whatever takes place in our fiscal arrangement. If his Resolution is passed it would not be lawful to remit the duty upon the smallest article, however urgent might be the demand for its remission, but this Resolution would stand in the way, and we must pay the hop grower a fine of £300,000, or £400,000 before we could deal with it or address ourselves to the performances of our duty. Now, it is the invariable duty of the gentleman who for the time being holds the office I have the honour to hold, when the House is thus solicited at an early period of the Session to give pledges respecting particular duties, to remind it of its position on this subject. In the course of a few weeks the financial year will be at a close; a year critical in a financial point of view both on account of the extensive changes introduced into the law of the condition of trade, and, likewise, of the peculiarly disastrous character of the last harvest. Without dwelling upon these points, I put it to the House whether it is our duty to consider the claims of the people to relief from taxation separately one from the other, according as those claims may be pressed with greater eagerness or skill by the advocates of a particular interest; or whether we ought not rather to wait until the time comes when we may know, as a whole, the financial condition of the country, until we see what is to be our expenditure, what are our means, and if there be an opportunity of remission, deciding upon the various claims on the Exchequer after a careful comparison of their merits? Now such a comparison is entirely avoided by my hon. Friend. He has not entered into a question of the claims to remission which would compete with the claim of the hop duty upon an occasion of this kind. He has forgotten that we are leaving the duties on tea and sugar at a war rate; that we are still maintaining the paper duty, which this House passed a Bill to repeal, and that the income tax is now, in a time of peace, at 10d. in the pound. I might multiply these instances, but will only refer to a recent vote of the House of Commons, by which it appeared that the case of some of the payers of this income tax was thought especially deserving its consideration. Now, I do not want to obtain an advantage over my hon. Friend, unless it be such as from the form of his Motion I can justly have. I do not ask the House of Commons to affirm, that the hop duty is a perfect duty or ought to be permanently maintained; nay more, 1451 I do not ask the House to say that there are other more serious and urgent claims to which it is our duty first to give heed. I only entreat the House not to prejudice the great questions which may come before us when the Estimates for the next year are fully prepared, and when we have obtained a just view of our probable Revenue. That is the time when my hon. Friend will have the opportunity of making a proposal if he pleases; but he must see that the nature—the essential and invariable nature—of a Motion like this if carried now, is to give to a particular claim an unfair and surreptitious advantage over other claims perhaps as well entitled to consideration. Why is this particular case to have exceptional consideration? Why is not some one to point out the enormous advantages of a reduction in the duty on tea? I ask my hon. Friend to be contented with equality of dealing, which he will have if he remains in the same predicament as the representatives of other interests, and if he asks the House at the proper time, when it knows the means and resources at its command, to decide upon this, after a searching comparison with other claims. These are the grounds upon which I feel strongly persuaded that the House will not accede to the request of my hon. Friend. I have endeavoured to state those grounds without in any degree concealing or attempting to weaken admissions which fairness demands from me as to the nature of this particular tax. But the Government would be guilty of the grossest breach of duty if they yielded to every popular demand of this kind. In the present instance the demand is backed by a stout phalanx, who have had civil war among themselves, the first thing they do on making peace being to proclaim war with somebody else. The Government, however, would fail in their duty if, from any fear of such power they were to refrain from entreating the House to hold this question over until the proper time arrives for deciding upon it in connection with the annual financial projects which only a few weeks must of necessity bring before us. Above all the House should avoid the inconsiderate repetition of Resolutions of this description with regard to the abstract merits of taxes, which are either in themselves valueless, or are worse than valueless, nay, are dangerous from the expectations they excite, and which constitute an entire departure from former practice; for those who preceded us never stooped to popular favour by promising to 1452 remit taxes, the abolition of which would involve the national finances in total uncertainty and confusion.
§ LORD HARRY VANE
said, the right hon. Gentleman bad based his opposition to the Motion mainly on the ground of the Resolution being an abstract Resolution. He would admit that there might be objections to an abstract Resolution, but he noticed that those who carried their measures through Parliament generally succeeded by means of such Resolutions. Inasmuch as the injurious operation of this tax had not been denied, and as the Chancellor of the Exchequer had admitted nearly all the arguments urged against it, he thought his hon. Friend perfectly justified in proceeding with the Motion, because when the Budget was brought forward there would be very little chance of obtaining relief. If ever the movement for repealing the hop duty was to be successful its supporters should persevere now. It was acknowledged that hardly any Revenue would be derived from the tax this year, and there was also an absolute certainty that next year would be a bad hop year. A remission of the duty would, therefore, make but little difference to the Exchequer for these two years. The Motion only stated that if remission could be granted, then that this tax should be taken into consideration and as he believed that such a remission would be productive of advantage to the Revenue, by increasing the quantity of malt consumed, he should certainly support the Resolution.
§ MR. BALL
said, he would not long detain the House, but being connected with agriculture, and as the question before the House was an agricultural question, he thought he would be excused for saying a few words upon it. It had been admitted on all sides throughout the debate that the arguments advanced in favour of the remission of the tax in question were conclusive, and, although the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had endeavoured to weaken those arguments by the introduction of extraneous matter, he had signally failed. If the supporters of the Motion were to listen to the captivating appeal of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and postpone the Motion until the Budget was before them, they would be told that they were then too late—that the financial scheme of the Government had been all prepared, and that the adoption of a Resolution like the present would entirely destroy all their calculations and arrangements. 1453 He therefore thought now was the right time for raising that discussion. The right hon. Gentleman had argued that the hop duty did not materially affect the general public; but surely it could not be denied that that tax ultimately fell upon the consumer, who had to pay it in the shape of an increased price for his beer. He had endeavoured last Session, but without success, to convince the right hon. Gentleman of the impolicy of the course he had pursued upon the malt question, and had pointed out the consequences that would ensue. Of course he did not then expect he should be able to influence the Chancellor of the Exchequer by his arguments, but every one of the consequences he had foretold had come to pass. The hon. Member for Birmingham, introducing a matter totally irrelevant to the question before the House, had asked how they could think of remitting the hop duty while the tax upon paper was retained? There was this important difference between the two cases—that the hop growers were now unanimous in demanding the repeal of this impost, whereas, when the abolition of the paper duty was proposed, the great body of the manufacturers came forward to declare that the measure would not only diminish the public Revenue, but would seriously injure their trade. Therefore the two cases were not at all analogous. He trusted the Chancellor of the Exchequer would permit the Resolution to pass, and that the House would agree to the Motion before it.
§ MR. DISRAELI
—Sir, I hope the House will well consider the step they are asked to take before they give a vote on the Motion of the hon. Gentleman. I am not one of those who are at all insensible to the claims of the class of producers whose case is now before us to the attentive consideration of Parliament. It has been my lot on several occasions to have their case placed before mo with great ability and great fullness of detail, and I can truly say that on no occasion have I heard it put forward more clearly or more efficiently than it has been to-night—especially by my noble Friend the Member for Kent (Lord Holmesdale), to whom I have listened with great satisfaction, and who, I trust, will hereafter take an active part in our debates. But my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Ball) will pardon me for saying that he does not establish a case for the remission of a tax when he proves that it is a grievance. 1454 Whether a tax is a grievance or not is a secondary consideration. We must first look at the state of the Revenue. There is, indeed, no tax which is not a grievance, which is not a burden upon industry, or an obstacle to enterprise; and if the attributes of an impost are to be discussed in this House only with reference to those consequences, a triumphant case may be made for the repeal or remission of every duty that now exists in our tariff. But the primary consideration, which ought not to be absent from our thought at the present moment is the condition of our financial resources. The hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, and several speakers who preceded him, appeared to assume throughout their arguments that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is in possession of an impending surplus, and they are, therefore, putting in their claim for their share of that surplus. But they quite forget that at this moment there is actually a great deficiency, supplied only by annual and temporary taxation. Under these circumstances we are not to consider what may be the effects of a particular tax which presses on the interests of our constituents, so much as what is the general condition of the national finances, and whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he places his account before us, will be able to carry on the affairs of the country without calling on us to renew that which is always described as, and which we would fain believe is, a temporary resource in the form of a large amount of taxation. We must, therefore, dismiss from our mind3 the pleasing dream which lies at the basis of all the arguments that have been addressed to us—namely, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he comes before us with his financial statement, will be in the happy position of a Minister who has a surplus to apportion to the relief of the industry and trade of the country. We know that the case will be very different. I do not want now to enter, as my hon. Friend (Mr. Ball) briefly entered, into the principles which guided our commercial and financial legislation of last year, or to dwell on the consequences it has produced, We shall soon be in possession of an authentic account. That those consequences have been important, and perhaps serious, no one doubts; but let us have from authority a statement on which we can rely of the results of that legislation, which was received by many with great distrust. We must remember that we have unfortunately 1455 experienced the ill effects of a had harvest. We were told that if we embraced those principles of free trade which my noble Friend appears to have embraced in so complete a manner to-night, the disastrous effects of a bad harvest would no longer he felt. I will not now discuss whether those representations were just or exaggerated, but I think that, whether Free-traders or not, we shall all agree that a had harvest is to a country, and especially to this country, a great evil. Well, we have encountered that evil. We have had to encounter the effect of commercial and financial experiments, together with that bad harvest, in the face of an increased and increasing expenditure. I give every credit to the Government for the reduced Estimates which they have offered to the House; I have no doubt that, small as the reduction is, they would not have placed those Estimates on the table without having a conscientious conviction that they were justified in taking that course. But at this critical period it is open to every Member of this House to form his own opinion of what may be the conjuncture of public events, and what may possibly occur in the affairs of the world, and I have no hesitation in saying that, in my opinion, the period is now so critical that he would be a very rash leader of his countrymen who would allow them to indulge in a hope that there will be any great diminution of expenditure, and consequently any considerable reduction of taxation. The fact is that every man knows that the period is so extremely critical that we should husband and increase our resources, and not only have we that general feeling, but it seems also that the future is obscure, and that it is a period on which no one can speak with authority to guide us. Is this an occasion, with an impending financial statement—is this the occasion to come forward and to further embarrass the Minister entrusted with the management of the finance, under circumstances which must ensure him many difficulties that he will have to encounter? I do not think, then, we should be justified in supporting the Motion of the hon. Gentleman. He and his friends may justify the Motion by the Resolution which the House adopted in the case of the paper duties, but there is no similarity between the two cases. It is the office of the House of Commons—their most legitimate office—if they entertain a strong opinion as to a particular tax, and also believe 1456 that the Government of the day has probably a surplus at its disposal—it is the duty and highest privilege of the House of Commons preliminarily to express an opinion upon that tax, which they believe to he a permanent grievance. That was the case with the paper duties. They had often been discussed, and when the House came to the Resolution, it was accepted in a greatly modified form by the Government of the day, who announced that the Resolution could not in the least degree affect their conduct, and the House accepted it in that spirit. Is that the present position of the hon. Member for Sussex? That was a Resolution about the paper duties, which did not at all touch an impending Budget, even if the Minister of the day had not stated that the Government would not consider it in that respect. This is a Resolution which affects an impending Budget, and it is impossible for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, if the Resolution be carried, to avoid remodelling his Budget; or, at least, it must naturally interfere with the financial arrangements he intends to propose. Is that a fair or a politic course? I am aware of all that can be said against the hop duties, and I may say when I had the opportunity I proved my feeling by giving all the relief in my power to the growers; but I cannot subscribe to the doctrine that it is a tax which, as a grievance, takes the highest rank of all circumstances which can annoy or injure Her Majesty's subjects. I think there are many other matters we must consider before any taxation is remitted; and nothing can be more unwise in the position in which the country is now placed, than that we should enter upon a partial and fanciful scheme for the remission of taxation at a time when we ought, on the contrary, to prepare our minds for larger and severer toils—for really comprehending our position, and bringing to bear upon it all the resources of the country, and especially that which is the most important of all national resources—that spirit in a community that makes it ready to bear great burdens when it feels that they are required for the safety and welfare of the country.
§ MR. DODSON,
in reply, said he did not seek to interfere with the impending Budget. The hon. Member for Birmingham had admitted that the hop duty was an odious tax, but said that he was pledged first to the repeal of the paper duties. But was the House prepared to say that 1457 not a farthing of taxation should be remitted until there was such a surplus of revenue as would enable a million and a quarter to be dispensed with? When the hon. Member referred to a Resolution of that House touching the paper duties as precluding him from supporting the present Motion, he ought to bear in mind that in 1853 Mr. Frewen moved a Resolution that "The Excise duty upon hops is impolitic and should be removed." On that occasion the hon. Member for Birmingham said the Chancellor of the Exchequer ought to be obliged to the then hon. Member for East Sussex for introducing the Resolution before the Budget was brought in, in order that he might see whether the duty was popular or not. And he (Mr. Dodson) claimed the vote of a Colleague of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to-night, because on that former occasion he voted for Mr. Frewen's Resolution. In the division list he found voting against the hop duty the name of the right hon. Milner Gibson. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had that night greatly gratified the hop growers. He admitted three-fourths of the arguments adduced in favour of the repeal of the hop duties; and he passed over in silence the other fourth. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was not correct in another point, for the acreage of the hop growth was quite as large twenty years ago as it was now. The right hon. Gentleman had objected to an abstract Resolution, but that was a stock argument upon such occasions, and one that he hoped the House would not listen to. If an independent Member moved a Resolution before the Budget he was told it was too soon; if he moved it after the Budget he was told it was too late; and the Resolution was objected to as an abstract proposition. An independent Member could hardly be expected to introduce a Bill for the remission of taxation; and it was only by a Resolution that the opinion of the House upon the merits of a particular tax could be obtained. He hoped the House would not be led astray by the arguments of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the right hon. Gentleman opposite, but would give its assent to the Resolution he had proposed.
Motion made, and Question put,
That the maintenance of any Duties upon Hops is impolitic, and that in any remission of taxation or adjustment of financial burdens provision should be made for the removal of such Duties.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 110; Noes 202: Majority 92.