HL Deb 04 June 1846 vol 87 cc9-27

proceeded to move the Second Reading of the Customs Duties Bill, and said that the Bill was made up of details, which he would not trouble their Lordships by entering largely into; but would content himself with stating generally the reasons which induced Her Majesty's Government to submit the Bill to the consideration of the Legislature. In 1842, one of the first acts of Her Majesty's Government was to submit a proposal to the Legislature for a reconsideration of the Customs laws, and for a complete revision of the Tariff, with a view to the removal of prohibitory, and the relaxation of protective duties. That was not the first adoption of the principle; it was only following in the wake of that course of commercial legislation commenced twenty years before, which had been gradually advancing in the direction the Legislature was now called upon to take. To go no further back than 1819, considerable reductions were then made in the duties on the import of several foreign articles; and between 1819 and 1826 still more numerous and important changes of the same character were made. There were great alterations even in the navigation laws, and in our colonial commercial policy; large reductions were made in the case of almost all the principal articles of import into this country, and with respect to some of them the trade was almost thrown open. It was found, however, in 1842, that there was still a mass of duties imposed upon different articles, regulated apparently by no one pervading principle; and that, in fact, no recognised principle pervaded our system of commercial taxation. Under the superintendence of the noble President of the Board of Control (the Earl of Ripon), and the present Secretary for the Colonies (Mr. Gladstone), those articles were classified, and the charges regulated as far as possible upon a fixed scale—the principles applied to the Tariff being, that as far as possible duties upon raw materials should be removed; that articles wholly manufactured should be subjected to a duty of 20 per cent; and that those partially manufactured should be subjected to a duty of 10 per cent. A list of the principal articles with regard to which changes were then made, had recently been laid on the Table; they amounted to nearly 600 in number; and reductions were made in duties which reached to upwards of 1,300,000l. In the following year, 1843, still further reductions were made upon seven different articles; and, in 1844, four others of great importance, and involving large amounts of revenue, were included in the reduction; and, in 1845, the duties were proposed to be reduced on 112 articles, and entirely repealed on 54 of them. By these alterations very large reductions were made from articles from which we derived a large revenue; and a very large number of articles were expunged from it, as far as duties were concerned, although left for the purposes of registration, and that the resources of the country might be ascertained. These changes, especially those of 1842, were introduced in the firm belief that the removal of the duties on the raw material of manufactures, and the reduction of duties on manufactured goods, while beneficial to the consumer, would also give a stimulus to trade, which would tend directly to the benefit of commerce, and in the end leave the revenue very little, if at all, a sufferer by the change; and the mention of a very few of the articles would show how this anticipation was fulfilled. In 1842, and again in 1844, very large reductions were made in the duty upon coffee, the duty on the import of foreign coffee having been reduced in the former year from 15d. per lb. to 8d., and on colonial coffee to 4d. He would state the amount entered for consumption three years subsequent to the reduction:—

In 1843 the amount was 30,000,000 lbs.
1844 31,300,000 lbs.
1845 34,300,000 lbs.
This was only the amount entered for consumption; it did not include the amount imported, and afterwards re-exported. In 1844, a large reduction was made in the duty on sugar. He did not intend to enter into the sugar question then, as that article would form the subject of separate consideration on another occasion. He would only just state the effect of the reduction upon the consumption:—
In 1843 the amount was 4,000,000 cwts.
1844 4,100,000 cwts.
1845 4,880,000 cwts.
He wished particularly to draw attention to the effect of reduction on this article; for an increase in the consumption of sugar tended to an increase in the consumption of other articles on which the duty had not been reduced. Accordingly, although there was no reduction in the duty on tea, the quantity entered for consumption had in creased largely.
In 1843 the amount was 40,000,000 lbs.
1844 41,000,000 lbs.
1845 44,100,000 lbs.
In the year 1844 a similar reduction took place on currants, which, however insignificant it might appear, was an article of great importance to the comforts of the people, which brought a considerable sum to the revenue.
In 1843 the amount entered was 254,000 cwts.
1845 285,000 cwts."
1846 309,000 cwts.
With respect to wool. In 1843 the amount entered was 48,000,000 lbs.; and in 1845, after the reduction in the duty took place, the amount entered was 74,000,000 lbs. Flax had also experienced similar results. In many material objects of consumption a similar large reduction had taken place with the same results, as, for instance, in the raw material of the linen manufacture, in hemp, in indigo, in logwood, and in various dyeing materials. The Paper which he held in his hand would show their Lordships that in all those articles upon which this reduction had taken place, the anticipations which had been previously formed of an increase in the imports and the consumption were fully realized. But it was not, he needed not to remind their Lordships, merely to the import of the particular articles that they were to look for the effect of the reductions that had taken place; for though the import of any given article might not, at any particular time, have materially increased, still the stimulus which was given to trade by the impetus afforded by a reduction of duty in some one particular branch of industry, produced a movement through the whole, the effect of which was shown on the general exports and imports of the country. Accordingly, their Lordships would find, on looking at the account of the imports for the last four years, that there had been a very large increase in their official value. The official value of the imports, exclusive of corn, amounted—
In 1841 to £59,000,000
1842 59,000,000
1843 68,000,000
1844 71,000,000
1845 82,000,000
The same effect was observable under perhaps the most important head, viz., the exports. The total real or declared value of British and Irish manufactured articles in the same period, according to the same returns, was—
In 1840 £51,000,000
1841 51,600,000
1842 47,300,000
1843 52,000,000
1844 58,000,000
1845 60,000,000
showing an increase since 1841 from 51,000,000 to 60,000,000 in 1845. As far, therefore, as regarded the imports and exports of the country, there was undoubted proof that the reduction of the duties upon the various articles included in the Tariff, had been attended with the most complete success. The effect on the revenue—not on the general revenue, but on the particular revenue derived from these articles—was not less striking. In 1842, as their Lordships were aware, there had been reductions made in the customs duties of this country to the extent of 1,338,000l. The net produce of the customs duties in that year was 19,643,000l., exclusive of the duty on corn, notwithstanding this reduction. In 1843, there was a further reduction, equivalent to 171,000l., and yet the customs revenue for that year amounted to 20,200,000l. In 1844 there was a still further reduction to the extent of 286,000l.—and in 1845 a reduction to the extent of 2,418,000l.—a total of about 2,700,000l., and yet the customs duties, which amounted in 1844 to 21,000,000l., amounted in 1845 to 19,000,000l. This showed that the reduction of duties had not been followed by a corresponding deficiency in the revenue; the actual deficit being only 1,200,000l., whereas the reduction was 2,700,000l. The sum of the whole was this: that, whereas in the four years—1842, 1843, 1844, and 1845—there had been reductions in the customs duties to the amount of 4,214,000l., yet the customs revenue amounted in 1845 to 19,800,000l., whilst in 1842 it amounted to only 19,600,000l.; that was to say, that whilst there had been a reduction in the customs duties of 4,200,000l. in four years, the customs revenue was larger in the last of those four years than in the first by 200,000l. No stronger proof could be afforded that the reduction of duties, while it increased the imports and exports of the country, decreased in no material respect the particular revenue arising from those articles on which revenue was raised. He (the Earl of Dalhousie) did not wish for a moment to lead their Lordships to suppose that he wished to represent that the whole of the increase in the customs revenue was traceable to the reductions which had been made in the customs duties—very far from it: but what he had a right to contend for was, that the anticipations expressed that the reduction of the customs duties would not only be injurious to the community but to the revenue, were completely contradicted by these figures, inasmuch as they showed, that the customs revenue had increased by 200,000l.; and if that improvement were not to be attributed to the reduction of the customs duties, it must be owing to the improved condition of the people. Thus he had the fact that the reduction of the duties had not diminished the revenue, and had not been attended with those injurious effects on the population which by some had been prognosticated. He was aware that much of this prosperity might be attributed to favourable circumstances in reference to the bountiful harvests with which it had pleased Providence to bless this country. He was ready to admit that; but, nevertheless, their Lordships would recollect other times, when harvests had been equally bountiful, and when the same effects had not been shown on the customs revenue. So, while he admitted that the bounty of Providence in bestowing fruitful and abundant harvests had had some effect, he was not prepared to admit that to that circumstance was to be assigned the entire result. He was entitled likewise to attribute the increase in the customs revenue to the reduction of the duties on raw materials, reducing the price of articles to the consumer, and leading not only to the increased consumption of the particular articles with respect to which the reduction of duty was effected, but also of other articles connected with them. He had now given their Lordships very shortly an outline of the effect of the reduction of duties during the last four years; and it was on a review of these facts—it was from observing that the anticipations entertained with respect to the effect of reductions of the customs duties on the trade and prosperity of the community had been realized, that it was resolved, on the part of the Government, to submit to their Lordships a still further reduction. Accordingly, Her Majesty was advised to suggest from the Throne whether it would not, looking to the history of the past, be desirable that their Lordships should consider whether a further removal of prohibitory and restrictive duties might not be advisable. The Tariff which he now had the honour of presenting to their Lordships comprehended very many articles, and proceeded in the same direction as the Tariffs of preceding years; it was regulated by the same principle, but in a different degree. By the 4th Clause of the Bill, it was proposed that the duties should be removed entirely from all articles of food of first necessity, whether they consisted of live animals, or of meat fresh or preserved, or meat in any shape that could be called an article of necessity. In conformity with this principle, actuated by the desire to do strict justice, and in consideration of the other measure, to the principle of which their Lordships had given their assent on a previous evening, it was felt by Her Majesty's Government that they could not, upon any principle of justice or good faith, keep up a protecting duty upon any articles of manufactures which came under the same category—on woollens, on linens, and on cottons—with the exception of those articles which were made up for the purposes of luxury less than for those of general use and necessity. The duty was, therefore, proposed to be removed from all articles manufactured from woollens, cottons, and linens, in the mass, except those articles which were manufactured for luxury, such as damask table-cloths and cambrics, and others of a like nature, on which a certain amount of duty was still to be retained. He held in his hand a return of the value of the several articles of cotton, woollen, and linen entered for home consumption in the last year. It appeared that the value of the articles made from cotton was 39,100l., while the amount proposed to be repealed upon these articles was 35,000l., leaving only a duty upon 3,600l. to be levied. Again, upon woollens the value of the imported articles manufactured abroad was 162,000l., and it was proposed to reduce the duty upon 158,000. of these; consequently the value of the articles on which the duty was to be retained was about 3,000l. There was some difficulty in regard to linens, as one portion of the articles made of it were taken by value, and another by measurement; but it appeared that the value was 12,453l., the value of those upon which it was proposed to reduce the duty was 9,900l., being cambrics, French lawns, embroidered handkerchiefs, damasks, diapers, &c., all purely articles of luxury, and not of necessity to the great body of the people. He was anxious to make this statement, because at the outset the Government had been met with the objection that inasmuch as the measure was a free-trade measure, the principle of exception, as applied to any article, was one of injustice: and that the whole duty should under such circumstances, be removed, or otherwise not removed at all. But in point of fact, with respect to those articles of linen on which the duty was retained, they were purely articles of luxury; and with regard to those which were composed of linen and woollen, they were principally made-up articles, such as shirts and other matters of that kind, which gave employment to the poor when made in this country; and in justice to them the duty on these articles should be retained. The next article on which the duty was to be removed was silk; but as his noble Friend near him had given notice of a Motion on that subject on going into Committee, he (the Earl of Dalhousie) should not detain their Lordships by dwelling on it then. He should merely state the single fact that, whereas the duty upon that article now professed to be 30 per cent upon the value, in consequence of the alterations in value which had taken place since 1826—the period of the last regulation of the Tariff as respected it—the duty had practically increased, so as to be now in effect 100, 150, and even 200 per cent. In the Tariff now proposed, the whole was calculated at a uniform duty of 15 per cent upon the article. In like manner, in respect to articles manufactured of metal, brass, iron, steel, lead, tin, &c., the principle of the duty in 1842 was 20 per cent upon them; but it was now proposed to reduce it to 10 per cent. The ruling figure of the Tariff now proposed was 10 per cent upon manufactured articles, whereas that of 1842 was 20 per cent. There were two other articles of consumption upon which the duty was now proposed to be altered, namely, butter and cheese. In 1842 these articles had not been touched purely upon consideration of revenue, because both produced large sums to the public. But when it was proposed to reduce the duty generally upon food and clothing of all kinds, it would be at once inconsistent and unjust to omit them for that reason from the reduction. When their Lordships came to the Committee he would be prepared to state the case at large; but he believed that the quantity of these articles introduced into this country from abroad, as compared with the produce of England and Ireland, would be found to be very insignificant, and that the price of the articles depended not upon the amount of the duty, but upon the particular demand for them in certain places. The other articles which it was proposed to deal with were brandies and generally foreign spirits. The duty upon them at present was 22s. 6d. the gallon. It was well known to their Lordships that in spite of all the exertions of the Custom-house, the quantity of these articles brought into the country surreptitiously was extremely large. The Government were of opinion that the duty of 22s. 6d. was a far higher duty than the article would bear, without fostering smuggling. The Government did not anticipate, by the reduction they proposed, any very general increase of consumption. But their object was to defeat the operations of the smuggler, and only to impose such a duty as would not make it worth his while to carry on the illicit trade; so that the article when imported, would be sent through the Custom-house, and a demoralizing and irregular trade extinguished. The last article to which he should refer was one, the reduction of which was only prospective — namely, timber. In 1842 a reduction had been made in the duty upon colonial timber to 1s.—a nominal amount; while upon foreign timber it had been reduced, in 1843, from 55s. to 25s. The return which he had already alluded to showed the effect of the reduction upon the imports of articles in the periods that had intervened. Between 1840 and 1842 the customs duties on timber were computed on a different principle to what they were subsequently. In 1842, under the new system, they were taken by measurement. These were the returns as regarded
1843 229,000
1844 321,000
1845 342,000
1843 121,000
1844 202,000
1845 282,000
Simultaneously, too, with the increase in the consumption of foreign timber there had been a large increase in the consumption of colonial timber.
1843 347,000
1844 398,000
1845 408,000
1843 605,000
1844 601,000
1845 796,000
The statement of prices made up to the end of last year showed that the consumer had got the full benefit of the reduction which had taken place in the duties upon both descriptions of timber. The prices were—
1842 from £3 5 0 to £3 15 0
1843 from 2 9 15 to 3 5 0
1844 from 2 15 0 to 3 5 0
1845 from 2 15 0 to 3 5 0
1842 from 5 5 0 to 5 5 0
1843 from 5 0 0 to 5 5 0
1844 from 4 0 0 to 4 5 0
1845 from 3 15 0 to 4 5 0
It ranged on Jan. 6, 1846, from 4l. 7s. 6d. to 4l. 12s. 6d. The Paper from which he quoted was, "Return of the House of Commons," No. 175, for this year; and it completely bore him out in the statement which he had made, that the benefit of the reduction was felt by the consumer during the greater part of that period. Since last year, however, that benefit was not so apparent, because the enormous demand for timber, colonial and foreign, for railways and public edifices, prevented the decline in prices. On these grounds it was that Her Majesty's Ministers proposed further to reduce the duty on foreign timber by a gradual process—namely, on the 5th of April, 1847, from its present figure 25s. to 20s.; and on the 5th of April, 1848, from 20s. to 15s.; leaving colonial timber as it stood, at a nominal duty of 1s. These were the principal articles to which he felt bound to direct their Lordships' attention as regarded the details of the measure proposed for their consideration; but he wished also to direct it for a moment to the principles involved in the Bill. It had been stated by a noble Lord on the first reading of the Bill that it left many things undone; and that it was, as a measure of free trade, therefore inconsistent. Now, he (the Earl of Dalhousie) altogether and totally denied and disclaimed the character thus attempted to be given to the measure. Its principle was not free trade, but the reduction of protecting duties and the removal of those which were prohibitory. He did not attempt to deny that there were many anomalous parts in the Bill; but he submitted it solely as a measure for the reduction of protection and the removal of prohibition, not as a free-trade measure. The Government, of course, reserved to themselves the right of carrying on still further the reduction which they proposed in protective duties; but, at the same time, he was bound to add, it would be done cautiously, tenderly, and not without reference to the interests which had grown up under protection in particular eases, and, above all, not without reference to considerations of the revenue of the country. He, therefore, commended the measure to their Lordships, not under the nickname which had been bestowed upon it—namely, a free-trade measure, but as what it really and truly was, a measure for the removal of prohibitory and the reduction of protective duties; and he saw no reason whatever why, in that character, it should not receive their Lordships' sanction and support.


moved, as an Amendment, that the Bill be read a second time that day six months, upon the very ground upon which it had been recommended to their Lordships' notice—namely the removal of protective duties. In the first place, however, he should complain of the course taken by his noble Friend in proposing it to their Lordships. His noble Friend stated that the measure he proposed came before them recommended by the Crown. He denied that, and said it was unconstitutional, and contrary to their Lordships' privileges, that Her Majesty's name should be used as in favour of or against any measure before their Lordships. The Queen's Speech recommended this measure, but that was the Speech of the Ministers.


said, he did not make use of the words "recommended by the Crown," in his address to their Lordships; and he begged of the noble Duke not to misapprehend his statements. What he did say was, that, acting on their experience of the past, the responsible advisers of the Crown had recommended Her Majesty to suggest the measure in the Speech from the Throne. He had never said anything which could be construed into a statement that such was the opinion of the Crown; only that it had been recommended by Her Majesty's Ministers.


was glad to hear his noble Friend's explanation, and to find that he agreed with him that no measure ought to be urged on the adoption of Parliament, simply on the ground that it had been recommended by the Crown. But he wished also to observe that his noble Friend, in laying before them the returns of exports and imports, had omitted to tell them, as he did in 1842, the value of the articles at the present moment on which he proposed to reduce the duty. He saw that by this Bill they were going to reduce the duty on butter and cheese. He had always thought it was a principle with Chancellors of the Exchequer not to reduce duties which were increasing duties. Now he believed it would be found that both these duties were increasing; and it appeared to him, therefore, there could be no reason whatever for reducing them, except hostility to the agricultural interests. His noble Friend told them that he retained the duty on manufactured cotton goods. Now, he must say, that this was treating the cotton manufacturers extremely ill. Their Lordships would remember that within the last fortnight his noble Friend had told them that the manufacturers required no protection at all—that they could make up any disadvantage by their industry, skill, and Heaven knew what besides; and that they were anxious to be rid of all protection. He (the Duke of Richmond) could not see why cotton dresses should not be imported free into this country as well as corn, and why the farmer's and labourer's wife should not have a cheap dress as well as the manufacturer and the operative cheap corn. But his objection for taking off protective duties was, that they would thereby substitute foreign labour for their own. Would his noble Friend tell them what the effect of this measure had already been on the wages of the paper-stainers? Their Lordships were aware that foreign paper could now come in in anticipation of the passing of this measure. He understood that before this measure was proposed the paper-stainers were earning about 2l. 10s. per week, which was not too high, considering the rent they had to pay, and the price they had to give for water and other necessaries which they required quite as much as cheap bread; for while there was much talk about "cheap bread," the labourers and workmen in our large towns were greatly in want of cheap water; and monstrous good care was taken by levying an excise duty upon malt, that they did not get anything better. The paper-stainers, while receiving the wages he had mentioned, worked only four days in the week; but since the proposition to reduce the duty on foreign paper, they had been compelled to work six days a week, while their wages had been reduced to 30s. a week. His real objection to all these free-trade measures was, that they must have this effect—to reduce the wages of our own artisans and labourers. His noble Friend (the Earl of Dalhousie) had characterized damask and some other articles as luxuries, and had said that on that account it was not deemed advisable to reduce the duties upon them. He (the Duke of Richmond) had not the least wish to lower these protective duties; he was for keeping up every one of them. He wished the cotton manufacturing labourers to be protected as well as the farmers. But, as his noble Friend had characterized the articles to which he referred as luxuries, he (the Duke of Richmond) must beg to ask why the duty upon carriages had been reduced? Was not a carriage a luxury? Was not silk a luxury? He complained that the proposers of these free-trade measures did not carry out their principles. They reduced the duty on some luxuries, that the Minister's wife might go to Court in a very fine gown and in an elegant carriage; while they retained the duty on other luxuries. He believed that the persons employed by the coach-manufacturers of this country would suffer very materially from the reduction of duty on foreign carriages. Again, his noble Friend was going to reduce the duties on spirits. Now his noble Friend had attempted to show, with respect to all other articles, that a reduction of duties had been compensated for by increased consumption; but when he came to spirits he stood steady, and said the reduction of duty on spirits would not increase the consumption. He was sorry the right rev. prelate (the Bishop of Norwich), who had presented so many petitions against the consumption of spirits on the Sabbath, was not then present, that he might protest against the increased facilities which this Bill would give to spirit-drinking. As to the plea of preventing smuggling, he was convinced that if the Custom-house officers did their duty, they were well able to prevent smuggling; and it would be readily admitted that there was much less smuggling in this country now than formerly. He would not say whether a great quantity of silks might not have been smuggled by some large houses in the metropolis; but, as a resident in a maritime county, he would venture to say that smuggling was not now carried on to one-quarter the extent it was thirty years ago. After the decision their Lordships had come to the other evening, he (the Duke of Richmond) felt it was of very little use to trouble them at any length upon this question, for he well knew what their decision would be. He would, however, move, that this Bill be read a second time that day six months; and he protested against it, as having a tendency to decrease the wages of employment of the working classes of this country.


said, he thought there was great injustice in the anomalous and inconsistent manner in which the Government were attempting to carry out their principles in this measure. If the Government had proposed a measure of this kind which put all classes on an equality, he would have been one of the first to support it; but he thought in the whole course of their proceedings in this as well as in the great measure they discussed the other night, they had acted on a system of injustice which ought not to be allowed in this country. His noble Friend (the Earl of Dalhousie) said, that he expected a great increase of revenue from the reduction of duties, and this might be a very good reason for reducing duties; but his noble Friend was going by his Bill to abolish several duties, by which means he must abolish the revenue derived from them altogether. In glancing over the Tariff he found there were forty-eight articles on which the duties were abolished altogether, and he found that twenty-two of these were duties in favour of agriculture. His noble Friend had alluded to the reduction of duty on linen, as affording some compensation; but his noble Friend must have forgotten that if this would not prejudicially affect the English agriculturist, it would very seriously affect the agricultural population in the most prosperous and peaceable part of Ireland. Believing, therefore, that the application of the principles of the Government in this measure were unequal and unjust, he felt it his duty to protest against it.


said, that to a considerable extent he concurred in the opinions just expressed by his noble Friend (Earl of Wicklow). He was bound to say that, looking at the Bill, he could not see any distinct principle fairly and fully carried out. His noble Friend (the Earl of Dalhousie) told them that the principle on which the Government proceeded had been to get rid of prohibitory duties, and to reduce protective duties, and at the same time he told them they considered protective duties to be unsound in principle. Now if this were so, it seemed to him that the proper course for the Government to adopt would be to get rid of them altogether. At least, they should act on one plan or the other. He could understand his noble Friend on the cross benches, who thought everything should be protected, although he (Earl Grey) believed this would soon deprive them of all trade; and, on the other haud, he could understand and agree with those who thought protective duties were altogether wrong; and in that opinion he entirely concurred, for he believed that the utmost possible freedom of exchange among nations, added to their mutual wealth and to the comfort and enjoyment of their people; but he could not understand this half measure of the Government, which was partly in favour of protection and partly against it. The noble Lord had said, however, that the Government reserved to themselves the right of applying this principle gradually, and with due regard to the welfare of existing interests, which had sprung up under the protective system. He (Earl Grey) considered that nothing could be more mischievous and injurious to those interests than the laying down a principle which would ultimately lead to the entire abolition of all protective duties, and yet partially retaining them. Such a system would occasion constant uncertainty and changes. What had been its effect already? They commenced the reduction of duties in 1842, when the Government declared that 20 per cent should be the maximum amount of our protective duties. In three years afterwards they found this would not do, and they came down to 15 and 10 percent; and if the Government continued in office a few years longer they would say 10 per cent was too much. These constant alterations were most pernicious to commerce and trade. He looked on this Bill, however, as a most important step in the right direction. He accepted it—not as carrying into effect, as they ought to be carried out, the principles for which he contended; but as a valuable instalment of what those who concurred with him in opinion might expect to gain; and with this view he would give the measure his hearty support.


was understood to say that he objected to this Bill as an unnecessary sacrifice of the revenue and industry of this country. He believed its effect would be to lower wages and to reduce the labourer to a lower scale of life, and that it was a measure founded altogether on mistake and delusion. He agreed with his noble Friend opposite (Earl Grey), that these perpetual changes were pernicious, and all that surprised him was that the energies of this country could survive being thus perpetually tampered with. The cry was one day "protection," and another 'free trade;" and no one knew what was next to happen, or what crotchet would next enter the minds of persons at the head of the Government. He totally dissented from the opinion which seemed to be taken up by the Government, that the present prosperous condition of the country was the result of their commercial policy. It was true there was great prosperity at present, and that it had lasted some time; but he defied any man by any process of reasoning to make out that it was at all connected with the alterations we had made in our Tariff, or with the reduction of our duties. Any person acquainted with the course of things in this country for as many years as he had been, must know that the succession of favourable and unfavourable periods had been constant at distinct periods, and he considered that those variations were clearly and distinctly traceable to obvious causes. He would just mention some of them by way of example. The first great distress which he remembered as coming upon the country, was produced by the sudden return to cash payments, which, as they all knew, had been attended with great injustice and suffering. Several years of severe distress followed this rash measure, but at length the elasticity of the commerce and industry of this country overcame it. Hardly, however, had we done so, before we were again plunged into the severest distress by the proceedings of the year 1825, known as the bubble year. At length the country recovered from this also; but in 1837 it was thrown back into the same condition by the state of our commercial relations with America. The same result followed, and the greatest possible distress continued to prevail till 1841, when the change of Administration took place. The years 1841 and 1842 were also periods of distress; but this country, like all others possessing its vigour, skill, and industry, then began to recover, and in 1843 those great improvements took place which had continued down to the present time. If their Lordships looked at the evidence before the Committee which sat to inquire into the burdens on agriculture, they would see this course of events distinctly explained. The Government, however, asserted that the singular prosperity of the country had been occasioned by the alterations and reductions they had made in the Tariff; and they said that this result encouraged them to go still further in the same direction. He (Lord Ashburton) would venture to say that no one, substantially acquainted with the great industrial interests of the country, would support that view. This country had attained to an extraordinary degree of prosperity under a system of protection, and that man must be rash indeed who would make that prosperity an excuse for the present measure. He thought the financial bearing of this measure an important consideration. At present there was no surplus in the Exchequer worth speaking of; and if a reaction came, as in the course of events must naturally happen, having exhausted our fiscal resources, he did not know how we should meet the deficit, after the reductions proposed to be made by the measure before the House. At the present moment, when we were sending out our squadrons, our financial condition was well deserving of attention. He believed that the measures of the Government would be followed by a deterioration in the condition of the labourer, and he therefore disapproved of the present Bill.


said, the noble Lord who had just sat down had blamed the adoption of free-trade measures by the Government; but he (Lord Monteagle) remembered when the noble Lord in the other House had shown himself a strenuous supporter of many of the measures of Mr. Huskisson. He had heard with regret and surprise the opinions expressed by the noble Lord on the currency measure of 1819. Upon that subject the noble Lord had given the weight of his authority to one of the wickedest delusions that had ever been circulated; for it was by the suspension and not by the resumption of cash payments that all the injustice and inconvenience that had taken place had been originated. People who had borrowed money did so on the condition, that after the restoration of the peace their debts would have to be paid in the sterling money of the realm. No injustice to any one was therefore committed, except, perhaps, by postponing to 1819 what ought to have been done at an an earlier period. With respect to the periods of distress which had been alluded to, they had been always connected with deficient harvests. As to the present measure, he looked upon it as a very considerable step in the right direction, and he considered the measures of commercial reform which had taken place as an element in our commercial prosperity. He could not, however, approve indiscriminately of all the changes which had been effected by the present Government. The colonial timber duties had been needlessly sacrificed without effecting any increase in the revenue; and with regard to the sugar duties, the changes effected in them had injured both trade and revenue, and he held it impossible for the Government to persevere in the principles upon which those changes were founded. An importation of 70,000 tons of high-priced sugar had been calculated upon, which would have yielded a revenue of about 1,400,000l. But these figures had been so far from being realized, that only 1,500 tons had really been imported; and in place of a revenue of 1,500,000. only 24,000l. had been received. Then a reduction of 11s. 2d. per cwt. had taken place in the duty upon West India sugar, which had entailed upon the country an enormous sacrifice of revenue, without a corresponding benefit to the consumer. The revenue lost about 1,500,000l., being 11s. 2d. per cwt., and the consumer had only gained 9d. per cwt. in the price. Who, then, had benefited by the reduction? He mentioned those things, that they might not be further involved in reductions which injured the revenue while they did not benefit the consumers. One word in defence of the principles of freedom of commerce. When Her Majesty's Government stated on a former occasion that the principles of free trade were the principles of common sense, and that "to buy in the cheapest and sell in the dearest market" was the rule which ought to be pursued by nations as well as by individuals, he hailed the declaration with considerable satisfaction; for he felt it to be impossible that such a declaration could be made without being followed by great and useful results. The measures which the Government had introduced were founded upon these principles, which were those which had been advocated by some of the best and wisest of statesmen in former times—men who were venerated by their Lordships and the whole civilized world. Mr. Pitt had declared that they were the most applicable to countries which, like ours, exchanged their manufactured produce for the raw materials of others. In 1820 the famous London petition in favour of free trade was presented by the noble Lord opposite (Lord Ashburton), and that petition laid down the doctrines of freedom of trade much more absolutely than they were laid down in the Bill before their Lordships' House—nay, as absolutely and boldly as the gentlemen who were considered philosophical writers, and whom noble Lords opposite designated "rash theorists," had laid them down; and his noble Friend, when he presented that petition, supported the doctrines and principles laid down in it. He (Lord Monteagle) did not think that, if this Bill passed, there would be any surplus revenue: exclude the Sycee silver received for the ransom of Canton, and the most they could expect was that the revenue and expenditure should meet. He admitted that the finances of the country were at the present moment on a good footing; but there was no great mystery about that, if they took an income tax of five millions a year, and added it to the ordinary revenue. The change that had taken place was solely attributable to that. In his opinion, it would have been a much wiser measure on the part of the Government if they had made their property tax a perpetual tax, intending to repeal it as soon as the circumstances of the country would enable them to do so, than to have made it only a temporary law, renewing it from time to time; because every time time that they called on Parliament to renew the income tax, they were expected to give up some indirect tax which was unpopular or inconvenient. The tendency of this system of continuing the income tax for two or three years only, was to go from indirect to direct taxation; and he said most earnestly, that a more dangerous career could not under any circumstances be entered upon. It went upon a false principle, and held out to the mass of the people that the rich and those who were the holders of property had the capacity of paying all the expenses of the State. Now, that was not only dangerous, but entirely false. But, as a further consequence, it led to this fallacy—that the taxation on the rich man and the capitalist could be augmented without indirectly affecting the interest of the poor man also; than which nothing could be more erroneous. In conclusion the noble Lord expressed his warm concurrence in the Bill.

Bill read a second time.

House adjourned.