, in rising to call attention to the penalties imposed by certain Acts of Parliament on the cultivation of tobacco in the United Kingdom, and to ask Her Majesty's Government if they will give facilities for experiments being undertaken in its cultivation and preparation? said, the subject to which he wished to call attention was one that affected agriculture; and the serious and deplorable condition of that great trade at the present moment justified him, he thought, in bringing it before such an Assembly as the House of Lords, representing so thoroughly, so eminently, and so practically as it did the great agricultural interest, the more so as it possibly pointed out a direction in which, as regarded certain parts of the country, a remedy might be found for agricultural depression. When he first considered the subject, he thought it would be entirely impossible not to ask for some measure of protection. Close consideration, however, had convinced him that it was unnecessary to do that, and that all he need ask the House was that the home might be placed exactly upon the same footing as the foreign producer. He did not know whether their Lordships were aware—he was quite satisfied the general public was not aware—that in England—Free Trade England—which had endeavoured, unsuccessfully, it was true, to cram Free Trade down the throats of every other country, which had strutted on the world's stage as the one true exponent of thoroughly sound commercial principles—Protection in its rankest form existed. And for whom? Not for the benefit of the English producer or for the English farmer, but for the benefit of the foreign producer. It was the fact that the law of this country enacted that a protective duty of no less than 500 per cent should be given to the foreign producer, and that the English producer should not be allowed to grow that particular plant. It had been objected that tobacco could not be grown in England, and that the grower could not compete against the import duty. He did not require to rest his case on mere theories. He should be able to show that tobacco had been grown as far North as Scotland; that it was cured 64 and prepared in the same country; that at one time—unfortunately many years ago—it was in considerable cultivation in England, and that at the present day in Belgium, whose climate approached very closely indeed to that of England, it was in most thriving cultivation. It was not a question of competing with an import duty. He would presume that an Excise duty was put on equivalent to the import duty; and then the question was, whether they could produce an article of equal quality to the worst quality of tobacco introduced into this country, and whether the price given for that worst quality of tobacco was not sufficient to leave a margin between the cost of production and the selling price. There was one other objection raised, and that was that we had not sun enough in this country in order to prepare tobacco for market. It was a mistake, however, to suppose that all tobacco introduced into the market in England was sun-dried. There was a large quantity sold in the market very readily which was dried, both in America and Belgium, in open air shades by a system of wood fires, and there was no reason why the same should not be done here. He would shortly call attention to the anomalous Statutes by which the cultivation of tobacco in this country was prohibited. By 12 Charles II., c. 34, it was enacted that—No person after January 1, 1660, shall set or plant any tobacco under penalty of forfeiture of crop and of 40s. per rod of ground so planted.That was equivalent to a duty of £320 per acre. This penalty failing to stop the cultivation of the plant another Act was passed—the 15 Charles II., c. 7, ss. 15, 16, and 17—by which the tax of £320 was raised to £1,600 per acre, and that existed to the present day. The Act 22 & 23 Charles II. imposed a further penalty of 5s. on all officers in whose district tobacco was found under cultivation, and that measure seemed to have had the effect of stopping the cultivation of the plant in England. The 22 Geo. III. recited 12 Charles II., and extended its provisions to Scotland. The 1 & 2 Will. IV., c. 13, repealed the Act 19 Geo. III.—which he could not find—For repealing so much of several Acts as prohibit the growth and produce of tobacco in Ireland, and to permit the importation of tobacco of the growth and produce of that kingdom into Great Britain.65 Sir John Sinclair, in his General Report of Scotland, stated that—During the American War this article of very generally diffused luxury became so dear that several unsuccessful attempts were made in Scotland for its cultivation. The chief seat of that new culture was in the neighbourhood of Kelso," where "it succeeded so well that 16½ statute acres at Crailing brought £104, or £6 7s. 4d. per acre, being purchased by the Government at 4d. per pound.From the Agricultural Survey of the County of Roxburgh, dated 1794, it appeared that—Tobacco was first grown at Newstead, and eventually many hundred acres of land were cropped with it. The profits were amazingly great; but an Act of Parliament put an entire stop to its cultivation.Sir John Sinclair in 1830 expressed his opinion, derived from the experiments of 1782, that tobacco might be grown at considerable profit. Mr. Train also gave evidence that land let for tobacco cultivation used to let at £5 an acre when other land was only fetching £2. The growth of the plant was carried on in six English shires and five Scotch. But the crop was never much cultivated in England because the statutory prohibition had been continuously in force, whereas it was for some time taken off in Ireland and Scotland. But individual experiments in gardens and small areas had been made from time to time with considerable success. A more extensive experiment was made in the Vale of York for a few years before 1782, which had to be abandoned because the penalties laid amounted to £30,000. As we had long since lost the Colonies on whose behalf the heavy tobacco duty was imposed it seemed unreasonable to continue the duty in the present day. In Ireland the duty was removed in 1822, but was reimposed about 1830. By 1829 or 1830 there were no fewer than 1,000 acres under tobacco cultivation; but upon that question he might refer their Lordships to the evidence given before the Commission of 1832. The effect of that evidence shortly was that an average crop was 1,000 lbs. an acre, and the average cost of production from £20 to £30; that a great improvement was noticed in the condition of the people where it was grown; that three crops could be taken off the land in as many years, and that it was an excellent preparation for cereal crops. It might be questionable 66 whether, if cultivated in this country, tobacco would bear a duty of 3s. 6d. per lb.; but it must be remembered that we were rapidly becoming accustomed to a much smaller margin of profit than was required by our forefathers. He would read a short and amusing extract from Fairholt, which showed the advantages which had formerly accrued from the cultivation of tobacco in this country—It had been extensively grown in Gloucestershire, as appears from the following passage in 'Harry Hangman's Honour, or the Gloucestershire Hangman's request to the Smokers and Tobacconists of London,' a quarto pamphlet in the King's Collection, June 11, 1655. He says:—'The very planting of tobacco hath proved the decay of my trade, for since it hath been planted in Gloucestershire, especially at Winchcourt, my trade hath proved nothing worth.' He adds: 'Then 'twas a merry world with me! for indeed before tobacco was there planted, there being no kind of trade to employ men, and very small tillage, necessity compelled poor men to stand my friends by stealing of sheep and other cattel, breaking of hedges, robbing of orchards, and what not.'He had also had the advantage of receiving a letter from a Flemish farmer, dated the 12th instant. The writer said that the best soil for tobacco growing was a dark, rich, peaty, and not too stiff soil in a well-sheltered locality. Manual labour and much manure were required; but when the manure was put in four or five crops of cereals could be taken with scarcely any additional dressing. The writer generally sowed the seed in the open, but said that hot beds were preferable. The gathering took place in September, and was performed by adults, though children took part in certain subsidiary operations. The cost was estimated as follows:—Manures, £17 9s. 4d.; labour, £17 9s. 4d; rent, rates, and taxes, £5 6s. 8d.—total, £40 5s. 4d. To this had to be added a duty of two centimes a plant, which was much lower than the English duty. An ordinary year yielded 2,700 lbs. an English acre, of which 70 per cent was first quality and 30 per cent second and third quality. The first quality sold at 6½d. per lb., and the second and third at about 4½d. The net profit was about £26 an acre. The industry had made the fortune of the frontier town of Blandain, and enabled it successfully to tide over the present agricultural crisis. He could not, of course, assume that so large a crop could be raised in this 67 country as in Belgium; but even assuming the Irish average of 1,000 lbs. an acre, and putting the cost of production as high as 6½d. per lb., the estimate of the Excise officers as produced in evidence in 1829, it was clear that a good profit might be made out of tobacco cultivation in this country. Tobacco had been grown in Scotland and in Ireland, and it was now grown successfully in Belgium; and these figures showed that we might be able to grow it, and to have a profit of £8 per acre. Even if this figure were too high an enormous margin for profit still existed; for the profit on 1 lb. weight of wheat, at 40s. per quarter, and four quarters of 60 lbs. per bushel per acre, only came to ¼d., out of which had to be paid rent, rates, and taxes; whereas between 6½d. per lb., the estimated cost of producing tobacco, including rent, rates, and taxes, and 8d. per lb., the average present price of the very worst quality of smoking tobacco, there was a net profit of 1½d. per lb. This was a cultivation which might be undertaken on small holdings, and consequently it ought to be a subject of considerable interest to noble Lords opposite, because they belonged to a Party prominent Members of which had impressed on the mind of the agricultural labourer the idea that they, and they alone, were his friends. Perhaps the most important question of all in connection with this subject was the question of the Revenue; and he admitted that a Revenue which brought in from £8,000,000 to £9,000,000 ought not to be lightly tampered with. He was not asking for any measure of Protection; he was only asking that an Excise Duty equivalent to 3s. 6d. per lb. should be levied on all home-grown tobacco. There were three ways in which this might be done. There might be an acreable tax; but there would be some difficulty in this plan, because unless a system of guarantees were established he thought it was doubtful whether men could be found to put down so large a sum as would be required. Then came the Excise Duty on the cured tobacco. This was undoubtedly the fairest plan, and would, he hoped, proved feasible. Lastly, the cess might be levied, as in Belgium, at so much per growing plant, worthless ones being excluded; but there was this difficulty about fixing the amount— 68 namely, that we did not know how many plants should go to the acre. Different authorities advised different numbers, varying from 6,000 to 9,000. Still that ought not to deter them from doing justice; and to show them that it was possible to collect a tax upon tobacco he might mention that in 1864—the year of the Great War in America—taxes on 240,000 acres of tobacco cultivation were collected to the amount of $29,000,000. The suggestions he had to make to Her Majesty's Government were either that these Acts should be repealed and an Excise Duty equivalent to 3s. 6d. per lb. be put on home-grown tobacco and and the British farmer be left to himself to see what he could do, or, if the Government thought that that was too hurried a step, he suggested that, without repealing the Acts, a certain number of experiments should be authorized in England and Ireland, the area of each experiment to be limited, a registration fee to be paid, and a report of results to be sent into the proper persons. He was asking for no boon; he was asking for simple justice. His figures might prove utterly fallacious; but at present they justified him in thinking that the experiment ought to be made. He asked it not so much for the advantage of landlord and tenant—though Heaven knew they wanted encouragement bad enough—but he asked it most especially for the agricultural labouring class. He asked that a cultivation which employed more labour than any crop grown in this country might, for their sakes at any rate, be no longer prohibited by the Acts of Parliament he had cited.
§ LORD SUDELEY
(who replied) said, that the question of the growth and cultivation of tobacco raised by the noble Lord in his most interesting speech was one which had been frequently considered by different Governments; but hitherto it had been found impossible to allow its cultivation in this country. At this moment of intense agricultural depression he need hardly say that any practical suggestion which would be likely in the smallest degree to alleviate or smooth over the difficulties our farmers were suffering from would be gladly supported by the Government. The sanguine views expressed by the noble Lord that the growth of tobacco would prove remunerative could not fail to be of great interest to everyone, and especially 69 to their Lordships, who were great authorities on agricultural matters, and knew so well the terrible trials the agricultural interests were going through. On several occasions that this question had been raised arguments had been brought forward in favour of a certain amount of Protection being allowed; and it had always been easy to show that, if the advocates of the growth of tobacco relied upon Protection, the cultivation was impossible, as it would lead to endless smuggling and deception. The noble Lord who had brought this Motion forward stood on much stronger ground. If he understood him rightly he threw over all idea of such assistance, and boldly assorted that the cultivation must rest only on its own merits, free from all protective duties. He also stated his opinion that a profit could be made even in the face of the heavy tax of 3s. 6d. per lb., and that it could be cultivated without any loss to the Revenue. As he had said, tobacco was grown in Ireland between the years 1824 and 1830, and in Scotland to a limited extent in the years 1780, 1781, and 1782. In both cases it had the advantage of being duty free; but in Scotland it was on an extremely small scale, and even in Ireland, in 1829, the total amount of land under cultivation was only 500 Irish acres, even with that enormous advantage. This was supposed to be due to the fact that the tobacco grown was of an inferior quality to the American product, and that the great disadvantages attending the growth of tobacco from humidity and uncertainty of climate, and its general speculative character, rendered it an unprofitable crop. In 1830 a Select Committee of the House of Commons inquired thoroughly into the whole question, and their Report was so much against the cultivation and the impossibility of the industry being carried on, even if only a small duty was levied, that the growth of tobacco in Ireland was prohibited. A similar prohibition had been in force in Great Britain since the time of Charles II. The Committee reported—That to levy a high Excise Duty on tobacco grown in the United Kingdom would be attended with a very great expense and a large increase in the Excise Establishment; that even under the strictest regulations and the most unremitting vigilance, the greatest frauds and abuse would be likely to prevail from the great 70 temptation to smuggling created by a high import duty and the facility of evading any Excise law which could be enacted.The circumstances which induced the Committee to come to that decision had not apparently altered, except so far that the Revenue which they found it so necessary to protect was, in 1830, £2,800,000, and in 1886 it was £9,000,000, and therefore the dangers were greater. In 1863 a planter from Illinois desired to grow tobacco here, and Mr. Gladstone, who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer, went very carefully into the question. The scheme was found impracticable, as it would have impaired the Revenue and involved an element of Protection. A subsequent investigation was made by the present Secretary of State for India (the Earl of Kimberley), when he was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and another when Lord Sherbrooke was Chancellor of the Exchequer; but in both cases it was found impossible. He would not attempt to criticize the figures the noble Lord had brought forward to show that this plant could be grown with a margin of profit. They must all sincerely hope he was right; and he knew the noble Lord had gone very carefully into the subject. But he must point out that no one who had read the Report of the Evidence of the Committee that sat in 1830 could fail to be convinced that, under the most favourable circumstances, tobacco was an extremely speculative crop, and that unless the profits were very large few would run the risks entailed in its growth. This, perhaps, in one sense, would not much matter; but in connection with Excise regulations it became important. The difficulty as to the mode of imposing the duty so as to protect the Revenue was enormous. Whether the tax should be per acre or not was doubtful. The evidence taken in 1830 showed, however, that the cultivators were not at all agreed, and that the arguments against this mode of collection were very great. In the first place, the question arose at what period the duty should be imposed and collected—when the land was first planted, or when the crop was secured. If when first planted, the speculation would be greatly increased; and if not until the crop was collected, it would be necessary to keep up a large staff of Excise officers to watch the crop. Then, in any case, as 71 the produce must vary in quality and quantity, from superiority of soil or situation or mode of culture, the duty must fall unequally on the proprietor. The person who had the smallest and least valuable crop would pay a heavier amount of duty in proportion than the individual who had the most profitable crop. The other plan, and which was certainly the fairest and most equitable, was to place the duty on the actual quantity produced. Unfortunately this involved an enormous expense, owing to the necessity of having the crop watched day and night for nearly two months; and when the crop after constant pruning was at last picked, it had to be placed in specially erected buildings for drying and storing. He noticed that one witness gave it as his opinion that to properly carry out this supervision the cost would almost be equal to the actual duty itself, so tremendous was the expense of guarding the Revenue. Perhaps those difficulties of Excise could be solved; and there was no doubt that if the noble Lord was right, that, notwithstanding the tax, tobacco could be grown profitably, some scheme must be adopted. He must, however, point out to the noble Lord that in his calculation of the cost of the tax per acre he had forgotten to take into account the cost of collection, which must be added. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in answering a Question on that subject the other day, said that the Government were anxious to obtain information. The Government had gone very carefully into the question, and they thought that at the present time it was most necessary that any possible suggestion that could be made of a practical character likely to assist agriculture should be looked into. They saw the difficulty of collecting the Revenue, and the danger to it that would flow from these experiments; but they would be willing to try the experiments in certain localities in the way suggested by the noble Lord. These experiments were, of course, to be made subject to certain restrictions. These restrictions would be very much as stated by the noble Lord—namely, that due notice should be given to the Inland Revenue of the quantity to be sown, that the localities should be within an easy distance of the Excise officers, and that duty should be payable on any produce fit to smoke. Of course, 72 no legislation would be necessary in order to carry out these experiments. The Government hoped that by these experiments some solution would be found of the difficulties which he had endeavoured to enumerate. The Government sincerely hoped that the noble Lord might prove his case, and that it might be found possible to grow tobacco in this country without in any way interfering with the Revenue.
THE EARL OF DUNRAVEN
said, the noble Lord who had just sat down (Lord Sudeley) had stated that the cultivation of tobacco in Ireland was not successful; but he wished to point out one reason why it was not so. Although tobacco had been allowed to be cultivated in Ireland, it was not permitted to be manufactured there, and an import duty had to be paid on Irish-grown tobacco coming into this country. Under these circumstances, it was not surprising that the growing of tobacco in Ireland did not reach very large proportions. At the same time, all the evidence given by the growers before the Committee in 1830 was to the effect that tobacco was a very profitable crop in Ireland. He also wished to point out that the weight of evidence went to show that it was grown at a profit in Scotland. The noble Lord had mentioned the evidence of one witness, to the effect that tobacco was not a source of profit in that country; but he would refer the noble Lord to the statements of his noble Friend (Lord Harris) with respect to its having been grown in Roxburghshire and Wigtonshire. He (the Earl of Dunraven) had another extract on the subject, from The Quarterly Journal of Agriculture, Edinburgh, in 1830—That the tobacco plant may be produced to any extent in the British Islands is beyond a question. It grows in all the temperate zones to a high latitude. It is cultivated extensively in Germany, and the Low Countries, and even in Sweden. It required all the intemperate laws of King James and his Successors to repress its progress in England. During the American War, and previous to the application to Scotland of the prohibitory laws by the Act of 1782, it was cultivated on the banks of the Tweed and Teviot with the most promising results. This Act overtook the planters in the midst of their labours, and compelled them to root up their plantations and dispose of the produce to Government at a third part of its market price. But this is not all. The plant had at length taken root in Ireland, notwithstanding the absurd anomaly in the law, which allowed the cultivation of the plant, but 73 not its manufacture afterwards. Suited in a remarkable manner to cottage culture and the state of small possessions existing in that country, there cannot be a doubt that the cultivation required only a beginning to extend itself over the whole of the Island. If the power of cultivating it were freely given, not only would an odious tax on the social comforts of the people be lessened, but a new channel would be opened for the employment of their industry. At a time when complaints are everywhere loud of want of employment, and an excess of labourers, it surely cannot be wise to persist, by a series of laws more harsh and barbarous than any other upon the same subject in Europe, in shutting out thousands of our countrymen from a means of employment in their own country.The plant had taken root in England, notwithstanding the absurdly anomalous state of the law, and there could not be a doubt that it only needed encouragement to extend itself to the whole of the Island. The want of success which had attended its cultivation proved, not that the plant was not suited to the soil, but that the industry had not had fair play. There was no doubt that tobacco of fair quality could be grown in these Islands. It was very largely grown in Belgium, where there was a climate much the same as our own, and in climates not much better than our own in the United States. It was not generally known what a large proportion of the whole tobacco crop of the United States was raised in the Northern States. In Massachusetts and Connecticut large quantities of tobacco, especially adapted for certain purposes, were grown and exported to Cuba for making wrappers of cigars. Within the last few years Pennsylvania had become the third largest tobacco-growing State in the Union. The tobacco-producing area laid mainly in York and Lancaster counties, in the neighbourhood of Delaware Bay, a district famous for east winds and fogs at least equal to our own, and in which the climate would not be generally thought favourable for tobacco cultivation. With regard to the cultivation of tobacco paying, whether his noble Friend (Lord Harris) was correct in saying that British tobacco could compete with foreign tobacco, he did not know, and he confessed that he did not quite follow his noble Friend's reasoning that, because a profit could be made upon wheat, therefore tobacco could be grown at a profit. His (the Earl of Dunraven's) impression was that wheat could not be grown at a profit at all. But, from his point of view, he held very strongly 74 that the cultivation of tobacco was a matter of very great importance. Agriculture, as they all knew, was in a very depressed condition, and anything that tended to revive it would be a godsend, not only to the agricultural community, but to the whole population of the country. Then, tobacco was singular in this—that it required very little capital, and a great deal of labour, and that labour was required chiefly at a time when there was very little doing in agricultural matters. He believed that if tobacco were grown here it would be of enormous benefit. The evidence before the Committee of the House of Commons, though conflicting, wont overwhelmingly to show that there was an improvement in the material circumstances and the moral condition of the people of Ireland where tobacco was grown. Even if it were necessary, to favour the production of home-grown tobacco on a large scale, that the Excise Duty should be less than the Import Duty, he believed it would be a wise and prudent thing, and true wisdom, to place the Excise Duty at a sufficiently low figure to allow of the cultivation. He did not mean to say that it would be wise to allow the Revenue to suffer; for while the present Government remained in Office—judging from past experience—they must expect to have increased expenditure, further depression of trade, and a shrinkage in their resources; and, therefore, it would be very unwise to hamper such a source of Revenue as tobacco. But even if the Excise Duty should not be so high as the present Import Duty, the Revenue might not suffer in any way. The first effect of the competition would be to reduce the price of foreign grown tobacco, as the growers abroad would have to reduce the price in order to compete with the growers at home, and prices must be cheapened, to the great benfit of those who used tobacco. The consumption would thus be largely increased, and even if the Excise Duty were reduced below the Import Duty, the Revenue would not suffer. But he would not speak about this aspect now. He was well content that Her Majesty's Government should allow experiments to be made; and he understood that the Government would allow any amount of land to be cultivated, subject to the conditions laid down.
THE EARL OF DUNRAVEN
, continuing, said, if only a small amount of tobacco were grown and cured, there might be a difficulty in finding a sale for it. The noble Lord must remember that all connected with the trade—importers, brokers, and middlemen—would be entirely opposed to the experiment. All the importers and brokers who were examined before the Committee of 1830 spoke strongly against the proposal, and all the growers were strongly in favour of it. There would be an enormous interest opposed to the growing of tobacco at home; and if only a small quantity was to be grown, he failed to see how a market was to be found for it. He should have thought that, under the restrictions which the noble Lord had announced, Her Majesty's Government would have allowed any quantity to be grown, provided the Excise Duty paid was equal to that of the Import Duty. He could not conceive that there could be any difficulty in collecting the Excise Duty, any more than any other duty. He hoped and trusted that Her Majesty's Government would reconsider this matter, and would see whether, under the restrictions which had been set forth, they could not allow of the cultivation on a large scale, so that the producers might have a reasonable chance of obtaining a sale of the article produced.
§ THE EARL OF IDDESLEIGH
said, he congratulated his noble Friend (Lord Harris) who had brought that subject forward on the excellent speech he had made, and also on the result he had so far obtained. He was glad that Her Majesty's Government proposed to institute experiments on that important question. He did not like to forecast what might be the result of those experiments. They would have to be conducted with very great care, because they would apply to a matter of very large financial importance. They had to bear in mind that an enormous amount of Revenue might be affected, and that when they were instituting anything in the nature of an excise, and a very heavy excise, on an article of home growth, it was absolutely necessary to take precautions by restrictions on the cultivation of the article which could not fail to be felt to be annoying and to a certain 76 extent discouraging. However, it was important that the experiments should be tried in order to ascertain as well as they could whether it was possible for the Revenue Authorities to provide means of checking and preventing fraud on the Revenue without imposing such burdensome and inconvenient restrictions on the cultivation of tobacco as would destroy its successful prosecution. If there should be very heavy restrictions and very inconvenient precautions employed to prevent fraud upon the Revenue they might render it impossible to cultivate the plant at such advantage as would make it profitable. However, the subject appeared to have been fairly considered by the Government, and he, therefore, hoped that notice would be issued as soon as might be of the conditions upon which the experiments were to be tried. If they were to be tried, it was very desirable that it should be done soon, and that, if possible, a season should not be lost in the matter. He did not know whether the Government would be able to give the notices quickly, but, undoubtedly, it was very desirable that they should do so.
§ LORD NORTHBOURNE
said, that the farmers of this country were apt to say that Parliament took little interest in agriculture; but he was quite sure that was not the case, and that noble Lords on the Ministerial side were anxious to do as much good for the interests of agriculture as noble Lords opposite. He would also point out that very crude and absurd notions were afloat in regard to the waste land existing in this country, and its capacity for profitable cultivation.
§ THE EARL OF WEMYSS
said, he would not enter into the question whether the Liberals or the Conservatives were best entitled to be called the farmers' friends; but he wished to ask whether it was intended by the Government that the proposed experiments with respect to the cultivation of tobacco would apply to Scotland as well as to England and Ireland, and in what relative proportion as to acreage between the three countries?
§ LORD SUDELEY
said, he believed that it was not quite decided what experiments should be carried on, or whether it might not be desirable to consult with the Royal Agricultural Society on the subject. That point was still under consideration.
§ LORD SUDELEY
said, he thought it was intended that they should apply to the Three Kingdoms; but the point was not yet settled.