Speeches on Questions of Public Policy by Richard Cobden
[On December 3, 1852, Mr. Disraeli made his financial statement. Among other particulars, it proposed to extend the income-tax to Ireland. After a debate extending over five nights, the resolutions of the Chancellor of the Exchequer were rejected by a majority of 19 (305 to 286), and Lord Derby retired from office.]
If the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Davison) who has just sat down, had offered one word of argument in reply to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax (Sir Charles Wood), on Friday evening, I should have felt it my duty to have recurred to the topics he then urged; but as the hon. Gentleman has not ventured to grapple with that speech, the statements contained in it remain unanswered, and that relieves me from the necessity of touching on the principal parts of the Budget of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Disraeli). I wish, however, to refer to one part of the speech of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. He represents the city of Belfast; and on a question which touches the taxation of the people of England, I think he would have exercised a sounder discretion if he had remained silent. By the obtrusive activity of the hon. Gentleman, attention is directed to that on which I should not have observed if he had been silent—that the question does not touch his constituents. The hon. Gentleman is an illustration of the evil of what is called an United Kingdom which is subjected to different modes of taxation in its different portions. We are now discussing the question of the house-tax, and the hon. Gentleman cordially concurs in the proposition which has been made. Now, it is a house-tax for England and Scotland, and the city of Belfast has no interest whatever in the matter. We are going to deal with England—the hon. Gentleman has only himself to thank for any remarks I may make—and the hon. Gentleman is about to give his support to an income-tax, which is to be levied upon the trades and professions in England, and on my constituents in Yorkshire, and upon the manufacturers of linen-yarn at Leeds and Barnsley. I take this to be an illustration of the evils and absurdities of the present system. There are in Belfast, as every one knows, establishments for the manufacture of linen-yarn and linen-cloth, which enter into competition with establishments for a similar manufacture possessed by my constituents in Leeds and in Barnsley. In Belfast labour is cheaper, the raw material is cheaper, capital is quite as cheap, and there is little difference in the price of coal. Now, my constituents pay to the Government 3 per cent. on the profits of their manufactures, while the constituents of the hon. Gentleman, who are engaged in the same trade, are exempt from that tax. Is it not evident that my constituents labour under a great disadvantage in competing with the constituents of the hon. Gentleman? And since he has entered into this discussion, I put it to him, whether he will be ready, by-and-by, to agree to a proposition which is threatened to be made by my hon. Friend the Member for Marylebone (Sir B. Hall), to extend the same incometax to Ireland as it is to be levied in England? I leave the question to the consideration of the hon. Gentleman.
With reference to the question which is immediately before the Committee, I will observe, that in some remarks which were made by an hon. Gentleman on Friday night, who spoke before the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax, it was stated that somebody on this side of the House objected to the Budget, because it created an addition to the direct taxation of this country. The hon. Baronet the Member for Hertfordshire (Sir E. Bulwer Lytton), and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. E. Ball), threw out such taunts as these against the Freetraders, and said, 'Now we will put you to the test; carry out your own principles now that we are all Freetraders.' Now, I am prepared to answer the challenge thrown out with regard to the promotion of direct taxation. I say, on the part of the Freetraders, that we do not object to direct taxation, where, in the first place, it is shown to us that it is levied equally on all descriptions of property; and where, in the second place, it is shown that a direct tax is one which will prove beneficial to all the interests of the country. But we do not recognise any right on the part of the representatives of the agricultural districts, or any claim arising out of Free-trade, which entitles them to levy a tax on some particular kind of property in the towns, in order to relieve certain kinds of property in the country from taxation, for that would be a one-sided, partial, and unjust system, and just the kind of system which we have been struggling for the last fourteen years to get rid of by the abolition of the Corn-laws. It would be, in fact, adopting the odious principle of compensation. Our first answer to the taunt from the other side of the House is, that we do not recognise, on the part of Members representing the agricultural districts, any grievances or losses incurred by them which entitle them to ask anybody else to submit to taxes which they do not pay themselves. Hon. Gentlemen opposite seem to doubt this very point themselves. The hon. Baronet the Member for Hertfordshire (Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton) says, that a great deal depends on the way in which relief is granted. 'Do it graciously,' he said; 'even if you don't grant that the farmers are distressed, still they think they are, and therefore give them something, in the way of the abolition of the malt-tax, which may console them.' This is a very sentimental way of dealing with a great question, which involves a sum to be counted by millions, and one which I do not understand. I deny that there is any distress which entitles them to ask for compensation. I had a note the other day from one of the most enterprising and intelligent farmers in the East Lothians, which I will read to the House, as I believe it will afford not a bad explanation of the condition of the farming world in general. He says:—
'The farmers of the Lothians of Scotland, essentially a wheat district, never were, as a body, in a more flourishing condition; and the demand for land, in consequence, is beyond parallel for the last thirty years. Every farm that is to let brings an advanced rent of from 10 to 30 per cent. I have four years of my lease to run, but have made a new arrangement at an increased rent of 15 per cent., which I begin to pay immediately, and I have always one-fourth of my land in wheat. Two farms have been let in this parish, within the last six months, at a similar advance to my own, and an adjoining farm, belonging to the Marquis of Dalhousie, is at present to let, the factor being in London, with the offers in his pocket, to show to his Lordship's commissioners; and I know for a fact that first-rate tenants, men of capital and skill, have offered 30 per cent. increase on the rent which the farm was let nineteen years ago, when it was advertised for six months, and then let to the highest bidder. My brother took a farm last week adjoining the one on which he resides of 225 acres imperial, and for which he pays 20 per cent. increase of rent. Sheep-farms have brought higher additional rents; but I have said enough to show you that any talk of agricultural distress is sheer nonsense, and for myself I have done, and am doing, as well as I could possibly desire. One of the principal reasons for this is, that where land is properly drained, by a liberal use of guano and other artificial manures, the crops have been increased one half at least, and every acre is made to carry as much corn as can stand. It costs me as much as 700l. per annum for artificial manures, on a farm of 650 imperial acres. I know several farmers whose outlay in proportion is greater; but then, in place of four quarters of wheat per acre, we have now six or seven quarters, and other grains in proportion; while root crops are also much heavier, and their value per ton is as great or greater than ever—thanks to the numerous consumers of butchers' meat.'
I mention this in the outset, because I have observed in the papers this morning a letter written by a Member of the Cabinet—if he is not a Member of the Cabinet, he is an exponent of the policy of the Ministry—and he states to his constituents, that although the Government do not intend to propose a return to protection, yet that they do intend to propose compensation, and that the Budget is the first step towards it, and that the repeal of the malt-tax is peculiarly a measure of relief to the landed interest. If such is the case, I say that we are entering on the old controversy between town and country, and you compel us to go into this controversy in a spirit that I thought was never to have been revived. An hon. Gentleman opposite says, 'Carry out your principles of direct taxation with regard to the duty on soap and on paper.' I say that I am ready to carry out direct taxation, if you propose a tax which shall be equitable, and levied on all kinds of property alike; but my objection to the Budget is, that it does not carry out direct taxation fairly and equitably. The proposal now made with regard to the house-tax is most unjust. What do you propose? You have already imposed a property-tax of 3 per cent. on all land and on all houses. You next go to Schedule A, and you lay an additional house-tax of ninepence in the pound, or 3¾ per cent., making the tax on houses to be at the rate of 6¾ per cent. as against 3 per cent. on land. Then you say, 'We want more money by direct taxation,' and you come with your scheme of compensation, or rather I should call it spoliation; and you go to Schedule A again, and select houses, and lay on another ninepence in the pound, or another 3¾ per cent., thus making the tax 10½ per cent. on houses as against 3 per cent. on land.
But that is not all; for we all know that in making an assessment on real property and on houses, you assess houses at a much fewer number of years' purchase than you do land; for land is usually assessed at thirty years' purchase, while houses are only assessed at the utmost at fifteen years' purchase; and therefore, if you levy the same rate of taxation on both of them, you cause a double pressure of taxation upon houses as compared with land. If you invest 1,000l. in land, and 1,000l. in houses, while the one is assessed at thirty years' purchase, and the other at fifteen, if you lay the same tax on both of them, it is, in fact, double on the sum invested in houses, making in the whole 10½ per cent., and that brings the whole amount you levy on houses up to 21 percent., and that is what you propose to levy on houses as against 3 per cent. on land. That is a great injustice on the part of the Government, and the House will do wrong even to attempt it; for, even if it is carried by a majority, do you think you will ever be able to maintain it? Do you think that the intelligent people of the towns will ever submit to it? Do you think that those centres from which radiate the light and intelligence of the country——Why, whence do you get your literature and your science? Is it not from the towns? I never heard that we went into country hamlets to seek for such things. I say, if you pass such a law, you cannot expect it will be submitted to; and it would be the worst thing that could happen for you, for you will revive the old controversy between town and country—but not in the old form, when hon. Gentlemen opposite could say it is a contest between cotton-lords and landlords—but they will have every little market-town taking sides against them, for they will all see the injustice that is practised on the owner of house property. Your argument is, that this house-tax would be a tax, not on house property but on rents. I think myself that this, as well as every other tax, would ultimately be felt more or less by everybody. But, at all events, as regards the great proportion of house property, it can be clearly shown that you tax the owners as well as the occupiers, inasmuch as there are a large number of houses in the towns which are owned by those who live in them. Let the House see how the tax will work. You have benefit building societies, whereby frugal mechanics and humble tradesmen manage, in the shape of weekly payments, to get together sums of money sufficiently large to build or purchase houses for themselves, and many of these houses would be generally 10l. houses; and in future they will be still more numerous than they have been, for I am glad to say the saving character of this class of society is increasing, and they are now happily bent on improving their dwellings. Well, what kind of justice is it to meet these men, immediately that they have accumulated as much savings as enables them to become possessors of small houses, with this inordinate taxation? Your notion of justice is to say that they shall pay at the rate of 21 per cent. on their investment, in proportion to the 3 per cent., which is all that is paid by the owners of the large landed estates. Take another example. Look at the vast landed property in the metropolis owned by noblemen, who let it out on building leases. Take Belgrave-square, for instance. You would find houses built there on land held on a 99 years' lease, and at a ground-rent of about 50l. a year for each house. Well, the person who had put the bricks and mortar on the ground, or who has bought it, is subjected to this direct taxation, but it does not reach the ground landlord. He carries off his 20,000l. or 30,000l. a year, and is left untouched. Is there any justice in that? Let me remind you, further, that the householders in towns are subjected to very heavy charges of another kind—to a vast number of local charges, not only for the support of the poor, but for police-rates, for highway-rates, for lighting, and for every description of impost; and bear in mind that inequality of the pressure of the rating, which I alluded to before—that the smaller number of years' purchase that this house property is rated at, presses with equal severity on the owners of that property in assessing it for the local rates, as in the case of the property and house-tax. Not only, therefore, has this property higher general taxes to pay, proportionally, but it has higher taxes to pay for local purposes. You cannot expect a system of direct taxation, which would work like this, can ever be maintained. And what is this direct tax to be laid on for which we are now discussing—for it is the house-tax which is now before you? It is to be laid on for the purpose of enabling us to remove one-half of the malt-tax. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Christopher) has stated, with his usual frankness, what the object of it was. He tells us that the Government are about to take off one-half of the malt-tax for the benefit of the land. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, however, tells us that he makes the proposition in the interest of the consumer.
Well, which are we to believe? I certainly think the Government would do well to come to some understanding with respect to their principles, or, at least, if they cannot agree, that one or the other section of them should engage to be silent. My idea of the malt-tax is precisely that of the Chancellor of the Exchequer—that it is a tax paid by the consumer, but that, undoubtedly, as with all taxes laid on a commodity we produce, the producer is subjected to inconvenience and to loss by it. The illustration which the right hon. Gentleman gave is precisely analogous. The cotton printers protested against the 3½d. per square yard duty on printed cottons, because that duty tended to hamper them in their business, and to diminish the consumption of their goods. I quite agree, therefore, with the right hon. Gentleman, that the consumer will primarily be benefited by the remission of the malt-tax, and also that the producer will be benefited, although to a small extent comparatively. But I have always understood that the great grievance of this tax consists in the Excise regulations which it imposes. This does not affect the farmer, it is true; but in one way it does affect him. An intelligent farmer, with whom I have the honour to be acquainted—one who has been a Free-trader from the time the Anti-Corn-law League began its agitation—I mean Mr. Lattimore of Hertfordshire, who is a model farmer, and admitted to be so by all his neighbours,—Mr. Lattimore was the first who converted me to the importance of repealing the malt-tax, on the ground that it would enable the farmer to feed his cattle with malt. How far this is a valid ground I cannot say; but I have so much faith in Mr. Lattimore's judgment, that I believe it to be a valid ground, and I have always considered the claim of the farmer to the repeal of the tax to be founded upon that fact, if it be a fact. I have, therefore, publicly stated, that if we could by any means produce the necessary revenue without the malt-tax, I would advocate its total remission; but I have at the same time always said this—that I would never be a party to imposing a substitute for the malt-tax. I don't know that you could point out to me any tax, however little objectionable in its form, which I would substitute for the malt-tax, if the amount of revenue it produces is indispensable. And I am not less strongly opposed to removing only one-half of the malt-tax. I voted some two years ago against the proposition of that kind of my hon. friend the Member for Derby (Mr. Bass). My objection to the remission of one-half the malt-tax is on principle. I won't agree to halve an Excise tax, especially the malt-tax. I object, independent of my objection, to the way in which you propose to make up the deficiency. As the right hon. Gentleman (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) has put the case—as the case merely of the consumers—it is open to objections of a serious kind. The right hon. Gentleman says that beer, like bread, is a primary necessary of life; and that idea has been complacently repeated by all the hon. Gentlemen who have spoken on that side since—that it is a necessary of life, indispensable to the health and strength of the labourer. Now, the fact is, that there is a wide difference of opinion on that subject; and I have repeatedly said, both in this House and out of it, that the great difficulty you have to meet in dealing with the malt-tax is, that there is a large, a growing, and an influential body in this country—some of them very fanatical, too—who hold the opinion, that beer is not only not a necessary of life, but that it is a very pernicious beverage to the individual, indulgence in which leads to the infliction of serious evils on the community. You think they are wrong, no doubt; but you have to deal with that class, which, within my knowledge, is a numerous and a highly influential one among our constituencies; and I think that, wrong or right, they are entitled to be heard in this House. This class is not speaking wildly, or without considerable authority; and it may not be amiss if I read to the House what has been said on the subject by certain persons, begging hon. Gentlemen not to give way to any lively emotion until they have heard the names attached to this document. These persons say:—
'An opinion, handed down from rude and ignorant times, and imbibed by Englishmen in their youth, has become very general—that the habitual use of some portion of alcoholic drink, as of wine, beer, or spirits, is beneficial to health, and even necessary to those subjected to habitual labour. Anatomy, physiology, and experience of all ages and countries, when properly examined, must satisfy every mind, well informed in medical science, that the above opinion is altogether erroneous. Man, in ordinary health, like other animals, requires not any such stimulants, and cannot be benefited by the employment of any quantity of them, large or small; nor will their use during his lifetime increase the aggregate amount of his labour in whatever quantity they are employed,—they will rather tend to diminish it.'
Now, that is a very strong opinion; and that 'opinion' is signed by upwards of seventy of the principal medical men of the kingdom, amongst whom I find the great names of Sir Benjamin Brodie, Dr. Chambers, Sir James Clark, Mr. Barnsby Cooper, Dr. Davies, Mr. Aston Key, Mr. Travers, and Dr. Ure. I think that, after having got such a declaration as that, I am entitled to say that this question—whether an increase in the consumption of beer would increase the health and strength of the people of this country—is, at least, an open question; and in this direction, therefore, I claim leave to differ with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his friends. Ana observe that this increased house-tax would fall on very many thousand professors of 'temperance,' and that some of you avow your object, in imposing that tax, is to cheapen the price of beer. The 'teetotallers' among my constituents would naturally say, 'We don't want to be relieved from the malt-tax; we have already repealed it, so far as we are concerned; we are trying, by tracts and lectures, to induce our fellow-citizens to imitate us; and we think your Budget unjust, and we won't have it.' And, more than that, they believe that the consumption of malt is pernicious to the interests of society, and take pains to persuade their fellow-subjects that it is so; and yet the Government ask them to submit to the house-tax, in order that beer may be cheapened, and that a greater consumption of it may be occasioned. Had the Chancellor of the Exchequer put his proposition on any other ground—on the scientific ground, that the malt-tax was a nuisance to the trader, and that it prevented the farmer giving desirable food to cattle—all the principles of political economy would come to his aid, and we should be compelled to acquiesce in the project. But, as it is, the obstacles you have to encounter are twofold: first, that you substitute a partial tax not levied equally on property generally; and next, that the malt-tax is to be reduced to a purpose to which the great bulk of the people are indifferent, and to which hundreds of thousands—I have heard them estimated at millions—are wholly opposed, on strong grounds of moral principle. Such being the ease, I don't think you have the least chance whatever of passing a house-tax. I don't know what a present majority of the House may do; but I can tell you, you can't maintain that tax if you pass it. You have seen lately with the windowtax, how long-lived is an agitation against an unjust impost; and, depend upon it, you are embarking in a contest out of which you will come as disastrously as you have done out of the battle for Portection—with this difference, that you will be far more easily beaten. And what is more, you are going to fight a battle not worth fighting for. I can hardly bring myself to regard this as an attempt at compensation. I did not want to allude to the thing; but the statement of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster does not leave me a chance of passing it over, and I have been obliged, in some respects, to deal with it in that manner. There is another proposal, in connection with this subject, in regard to which I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer has really quite wrecked his character as a financier; and that is the proposal to remit one-half of the hop-duties. I have often had communications with the growers of hops in Sussex, who have represented that they wanted the whole duty off, but have expressed apprehensions, in consequence of the Kent hopgrowers advocating only a removal of half the duty; and I have comforted them in this way,—'Don't alarm yourself for a moment; for, after the great doings of Peel, we shall never 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 in the fields and gardens of the country—worthy, no doubt, of Persia, or of Turkey, but too ridiculous for this England of 1852. How is it collected? Every September the Chancellor of the Exchequer sends a little army of tax-gatherers into half-a-dozen counties; and every Member of Parliament knows that every spring he is asked by some unfortunate poor fellow to use his influence to get for him this temporary employment in collecting the hop-duty. In September the hops are picked, carried, and dried, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer disperses his little army of taxmen over half-a-dozen counties. They take stock of the hops, and thus an estimate of the tax is got. It comes sometimes to 200,000l. a year, sometimes to 300,000l., sometimes to 400,000l. a year; hardly ever to half a million. Thus it has all the evils that can attach to any tax; it is cumbrous and costly in its collection; it is uncertain in amount—no Chancellor of the Exchequer ever being able to calculate to any positive amount on it; and it bears with most unequal pressure on different parts of the country. In some districts, the hops are hardly worth half the price of hops grown in other districts; and as this is a tax on the quantity and not on the value, of course it falls with the severest pressure on the poorest soils and the poorest quality of hops. Well, is it conceivable that the right hon. Gentleman, after the experience we have had of the great works that some of his predecessors have done—after the Corn-laws had been abolished, and the vast system of Navigation-laws had been done away with—could come down to the House of Commons, and as a great scheme of finance, propose such a mockery, the remission of one-half the hop-duties? I hope the House will never consent to such a paltry and trifling policy as this. If no one else will make the motion, I will myself undertake to propose the total repeal of the hop-duties, and even should that not be carried, I will still vote against the repeal of only one-half the tax; for it is far better to keep it as it is, if we cannot get it done away with altogether.
With regard to the proposed modification of the income-tax, I feel bound to give the Government every credit for the way in which they have dealt with that question. I do say it is most remarkable that a Government supported almost exclusively by county Members—representing territorial interests only—should be the first Government to deal—at all events, in principle, if not going to the full extent—fairly with the income-tax, as it relates to trades and professions. Most assuredly that proposal should have come from a Government representing this side of the House. My own opinion is, in spite of all that mathematicians and philosophers may say, that when you are going to levy a tax upon income and property, you must adopt one of two courses—either vary the tax upon incomes, making it lighter than the tax upon property, or take the plan which has been adopted in the United States, and capitalise the whole property of the country, whether it is in land, or in capital or stock engaged in trade—capitalise it all, and levy the same rate on all. Either you must capitalise all in this way equally, or you must make a distinction between permanent property and incomes derived from precarious sources—the practice of professions—the midnight working of the physician, and the daily toil of the lawyer—from trades such as that of a farmer, whose profits depend upon the changing manner in which his capital fructifies on the soil, and the income of a man who sleeps while his property fructifies. I repeat that I must give the Government credit for their intentions to make this distinction; and I am persuaded that if it is not done by them, it must very speedily be done by some one else.
But in dealing with this question the old curse of the party has settled on the right honourable Gentleman, and he could not deal fairly with it; he was obliged to make a miserable, paltry attempt to get a special benefit for the tenant-farmer. Instead of charging the farmer the tax on one-half of his rent, he proposes to reduce it to one-third. In the time of Pitt, the farmer paid on three-fourths; Sir R. Peel reduced the three-fourths to an estimate on one-half of the rent; and now it is asked to go down to one-third. Well now, really, I will ask hon. Gentlemen—say, the hon. Member for Somersetshire (Mr. Miles)—whether they think farming would be worth following as a trade, if the tenant-farmer could only get a profit equal to one-third of his rent?—that the income derived from profit and interest on his capital—from profit arising out of his own skill and industry—would altogether only amount to one-third of his rent? Would it not be better for you to say at once, if that is so, he ought not to be taxed on his income at all? But would it not be much nearer the mark to say that it ought to be equal to the whole rent?
You are proposing to extend the area of the income-tax, so as to embrace incomes of 50l. a year from real property, and of 100l. a year from trades and professions; and, as a principle, I am bound to say that I do not object to an extension of the area of direct taxation. But I say, too, include all alike within the area—tax every description of income and property. Certainly, you are embarrassed in applying the principle; for you have such an amount of indirect taxation, comprising seven-eighths of your whole revenue, and which, no doubt, presses with the greatest severity on smaller incomes, and especially on the labouring classes, that there are large sections of the community who have a claim to exemption from direct taxation. There is, in fact, no other ground on which you can resist the application of the principle, that your direct taxation should be universal.
The proposal of the Government is to extend the area of the tax to incomes of 50l. on property, and 100l. from trades and professions. Let us see how this extension to incomes of 50l. and 100l. affects the justice of the case, as compared with what you are going to do towards the farmers. I will put a case of a farmer with a farm of 250 acres of moderate land, and paying a rent of 280l. a year. By your proposals, farmers paying rents under 300l. a year are exempt from this tax altogether, because it is proposed that the tax shall not apply to farmers whose rents are under 300l. a year. If the farmer I speak of farms as he should do in Free-trade times, he has 2,000l. or 3,000l. capital. In fact, 10l. an acre is not so much as he should have; he would be better with 15l.; but, at any rate, he should have not less than 10l. an acre. Here, then, would be a man with a capital employed of 2,500l. paying no income-tax whatever, the Government assuming that he does not make 100l. a year. Let that be assumed. This farmer goes into the market town, riding his nag, and looking in fine health and great spirits; and he passes by a lawyer's clerk, who gets 100l. a year, and who is subjected to an income-tax of 5¼d. in the pound. The farmer has 250 acres of land, many labourers employed, stables full of horses, sheds full of cows, pens full of sheep, yards full of stacks; and yet the lawyer's clerk pays, and this farmer does not pay, income-tax.
Now, do not deceive yourselves; do not suppose for a moment that this could last. Is there any judgment or common sense in making such a proposal? Is it not provoking a quarrel with us on the most miserable grounds? You say you want in this way to benefit the farmer; but I do believe, on my honour, unless the farmers are very unlike the rest of their countrymen, that they will not thank you for putting them in this invidious position. They do not want these special exemptions; they want to be regarded as contributors to the revenue on the same footing as the rest of their countrymen.
By your proposal you are widening the operation of the income-tax, so as to embrace a greater number of people who were not included in its range before; you do that on 'principle.' But you have especially framed your measure so as to prevent any new class of farmers from being brought under the range of the tax. Is it worthy of the territorial party? What do you mean by it? Are you always to keep the farmers on your hands as a separate and distinct class? I put it to the farmers—have they not had enough of it themselves? Have they felt it to be their interest to be kept apart as a separate class, to be made political capital of? I thought the example which had been shown in the last few years, in the case of the farmers, of the way in which they have been most ridiculously bamboozled, would have been enough for them; I really thought it would have had the effect of preventing them, or any other class, from being made a separate class for political objects. I never thought we should have had a body of men setting up as friends of the tailors, or friends of the grocers, or friends of the shoemakers. I thought that trade would have been kept out of the arena of politics for ever, after the ridiculous way in which the farmers have been bamboozled; and I sincerely hope that this Budget will be modified and withdrawn, and that farmers will be placed on an equality with other classes, and will be made to pay on their profits just the same as other people. I know the objection that is made to that. You say farmers do not keep books, and that, therefore, they cannot give an account of their profits. Well, here is a good opportunity for making them keep books. You cannot do the farmers a greater service than by inducing them to keep books, and to know exactly what they realise in a year.
No, Sir, I did not expect that on this occasion we should have had these old grievances revived. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has thrown over local burdens, and we were to hear no more about exclusive taxation of that kind; I thought that we were about to get rid of this farming interest altogether; but it seems to me that hon. Gentlemen have not entirely comprehended their position, and do not yet understand what Free Trade is. It seems to me they have confounded two subjects which are not the same—the question of protective duties and the question of direct taxation.
Now they will perhaps excuse me if I give them a little A B C on this matter. I see the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Ball) here. He has not been much accustomed to hear Free-trade speeches. I want to show him and other hon. Gentlemen what it is we have been doing. I beg to inform that hon. Member and other hon. Gentlemen on the same side, that the advocates of Free Trade have not been necessarily the advocates of direct taxation. Direct taxation is indeed a distinct question from that in which we have embarked. We have been opposed to protective duties, and we have said, 'Give us freedom of exchange with other countries; do away with the restrictions on our commerce, and we do not enquire what the effect of that freedom will be on price; all that we want is to have free access to as great a quantity of these good things as can be got.' What is running in the minds of the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire and of other hon. Gentlemen opposite—I believe the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire has shed tears on the subject—is sheer prejudice on this question—that as Free-traders we mean low prices for everything. Now, what we want is abundance. We do not say that Free Trade necessarily brings low prices. It is possible with increased quantities still to advance prices; for it is possible that the country may be so prosperous under Free Trade, that whilst you have a greater quantity of anything than you had before, increased demand, in consequence of the increased prosperity, may arise, so that the demand will be more than the supply, and you may raise the prices on some articles. In some articles it has been the case; it has been so in wool and on meat, and we may not know yet what effect it may have on wheat itself. But hon. Gentlemen opposite seem always to proceed on the assumption that the Free-traders want to reduce prices, and that, therefore, they ought to have some compensation for those reduced prices. And then they talk of competition with foreigners; and the Chancellor of the Exchequer told us that he was going to prepare a Budget which would enable the industrious classes of this country to sustain themselves under the pressure of this unrestricted competition.
Now I thought it had been universally admitted that the industrious classes were in a much better position under the competition than they were before under the old system of restriction. I and my friends do not want commiseration for the working classes for the evils which they have suffered in the progress of Free Trade, for the working-classes themselves declare that they have derived great advantages from Free-Trade measures. Free Trade has, indeed, conferred great benefits upon the community at large, and it is intended that it shall confer upon them still greater advantages. I do not acknowledge, however, that it is necessary to propose any remedial measures to benefit anybody against the evils which are alleged to be caused by Free Trade. The Chancellor of the Exchequer—who, I think, is not yet very enthusiastic in the cause of Free-trade principles—has told them that he had framed a great measure to enable the country to adopt and conform itself to this new system of commerce. Nobody, that I am aware of, has asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer for any such measure. The right hon. Gentleman said that his proposition would cheapen the necessaries of life; and, in the opinion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, beer seems to be one of the chief necessaries. Well, how does the right hon Gentleman intend to cheapen beer? By raising the price of lodgings. But are not lodgings as necessary to the people of this country as beer? If we are competing with foreigners, which would lower the price of commodities, I say that to reduce the price of beer, to raise the price of lodgings by putting a tax on houses, is not, after all, a benefit to the people of this country. I do not admit that the people of this country will come in formâ pauperis to this House for anything of the kind. The truth is, you have got into a false position by making promises you ought never to have made. You have tried to appear consistent when consistency was impossible. But what I am anxious to do is to see that you do not mix up Free Trade with any question of compensation. I say the effect of Free Trade hitherto has been to change a failing revenue into an overflowing exchequer. Free Trade has made the people more prosperous, has diminished pauperism and crime, and in every possible way has promoted the prosperity of this country. Do not come to the House and say we must do something to enable the people to bear up under the load of this competition. And then hon. Gentlemen opposite ask us to give a new name to the principle, and to call it 'unrestricted competition.' I think it is Lord Byron who says a party has a right to fix the pronunciation of his own name; and I think Free-traders have a right to put their own name on their own principles. I never insulted you by calling you 'Monopolists' when you choose to call yourselves 'Protectionists,' and do not you go out of the good old Saxon 'Free Trade,' and give us this new name—do not call us—I really cannot pronounce it. How can we call ourselves an 'Unrestricted Competition Party?' You must adopt our principles, name and all.
Now, one word with regard to the alteration of the tea-duties. I think that is a question which the late Chancellor of the Exchequer ought to have dealt with; and I am sure, that if I had been Chancellor of the Exchequer I should have done what the present Chancellor of the Exchequer now proposes, four or five years ago. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman is far wrong in that proposal; but, on the whole, I doubt whether the Budget is the Budget of the Chancellor of the Exchequer at all. I do not believe, either, that the passage in the Speech from the Throne, alluding to this matter, was drawn up by the right hon Gentleman. I think the Budget has been cut and snipped away, patched, dove-tailed, and swopped away, until at last—as in the Queen's Speech, when somebody suggested that an 'if' should be put in, that all parties might be accommodated—so in this case some one suggested one thing and some another—until at last, all the bold things that were intended were abandoned, and what was left was the proposal which has been submitted to the House. The fact is, that the Budget does not at all correspond to the magniloquent phrases in which it was introduced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It was not at all worthy of a five hours' speeeh. Indeed, I humbly conceive that I could have discharged the duty in about an hour and twenty-five minutes. But the right hon. Gentleman, I suppose, has done his best.
And now with regard to this controversy as to the direct taxes. I have long foreseen that this would be discussed. The hon. Member for West Surrey (Mr. Drummond) stated the other night that I was consistent in advocating direct taxation, because I have said that such taxation would not be paid, and that then the public establishments could not be maintained. I have never said the taxes would not be paid. I have always had the opinion of the people of England, that they would pay their just debts under any circumstances; but I have always said this—if you come to get more of the taxes from the people in the way of direct taxes, they will come to scrutinise the expenditure more closely—and I think so still. The House may depend upon it that we are now entering upon a controversy as to how the Imperial taxation is to be raised. When we come to have what the Chancellor of the Exchequer has promised us, the whole of our accounts of the taxation brought into a balance-sheet—even the cost of collection—we shall find that our expenditure is approaching to 60,000,000l.; that is, about as much as the annual income from real property in England, and pretty nearly as much as the trades and professions are assessed to the income-tax. You will find that the great body of the people will be galled with the yoke, and that there will be pressure against some particular tax. Take, as an instance, the paper-duties. Since I have been in this House, a gentleman has shown me an American newspaper, printed on paper made out of straw, at an exceedingly low price. Now, the raw material of that paper is worth two guineas; but the tax in this country would be fourteen guineas; and therefore, before a paper-maker in England can manufacture such paper, he must pay upon two guineas' worth of raw material fourteen guineas of taxation. I have also received a letter from Bristol, enclosing specimens of the same paper, and stating that, if it were not for the Excise regulations, the paper could be manufactured in England quite as well as it is in America. Then, besides paper, there is the tax on soap. What an abominable tax is that! Only conceive of an agitation against the Excise duty on soap. Why, the supporters of the tax would have it said of them, that they were the advocates of dirt. Then take the insurance duties. For an insurance from fire to the amount of 100l. you pay 1s. 6d. for the risk, and Government makes you pay 3s. for the duty. I will not go over the rest, but their name is legion. But, as they are discussed, you will feel more and more the necessity of resorting to some other mode of taxation. It is not merely that you are competing, but the change in the habits of business renders these obstructions impossible. The greater velocity of business will render them impossible.
Look at your Customs regulations; there has been an agitation about them, and you cannot see the end of the difficulty, except by abolishing customhouses altogether. The late Sir Robert Peel effected a reduction of duties upon a great many articles; and many of us thought that the reduction of Customs duties would cause a great reduction in your Custom-house establishments. But no; you cannot allow articles to pass without examination; if you did, goods that do pay duty would come in in the guise of those that do not. For instance, if you allow cotton bales from America to come in without examination, how soon would these cotton bales be metamorphosed into tobacco bales? Look at the magnitude of your transactions. You are receiving from 25,000 to 30,000 bales of cotton a week, and how difficult it is to examine all of them. How different it was thirty years ago, when you had not as many hundreds!
Then, suppose any other country, such as America, should adopt the system of getting rid of these Custom-house regulations, you must adopt their system. You may make up your minds that, having got rid of protection, with the large mass of taxation hanging over this country, you are entering upon a long controversy on the subject of taxation, in the course of which you will have to deal with many of the duties to which I have referred; and if the growing surplus of the revenue does not enable you to abolish these duties, you will find it necessary, especially in the case of the Excise duties, to increase the amount of direct taxation. When you do that, you must make up your minds to come to a fair and honest system of direct taxation; for there is too much intelligence and discussion in these days for any party to escape his fair share of taxation.
This country is adopting the system of Free Trade, and yet it is extending its colonial empire, and spreading its establishments all over the world; and all the expenses are paid from the taxation of this little speck of an island. That might have been very well a hundred years ago, when Adam Smith had not laid down the law of political economy, but Adam Smith said, seventy years since, that he did not suppose the time would ever arrive when protective duties would be altogether abolished. We have arrived at those days; but they have entirely changed the aspects of your policy with regard to your colonial empire, and you ought to make up your minds to that change. Our colonies must maintain their own establishments. We cannot keep armies in Canada and elsewhere—we cannot afford it. The taxation of this country, which impoverished the people, will drive them to those colonial settlements, where so many inducements to emigration exist.
Twenty-five years hence there will be removed not only many of the physical but other obstacles in the way of emigration. Emigrants can now perform their voyages in one-half the time, and at one-half the expense, they could do five years ago, and they now feel that they are not going into exile, for many of them have friends or families in our own colonies or in America, and they go there as on a visit; but can you suppose, if you allow mismanagement to go on here, that the people will not be eager to go there, to escape the effects of your taxation? That has been the effect of enormous taxation everywhere.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer said the other day that this emigration did not tend to impair the consumptive ability of the country. It may be that the emigration of some 200,000 or 300,000 people may not have impaired the national resources; but what will be the effect if one-half of the population of the country quitted its shores? There is every reason why we should look this question in the face, as the beginning of a movement which will widen in its extent and scope.
I wish the House to consider, when the people of this country have so many burdens of taxation to bear, whether you ought to increase the taxation, as has been done already. We have wasted a great deal of money, and our expenditure is much too large; but it is of no use my saying so, because yon call me a Quaker if I do. You have added 1,200,000l. to your expenditure lately; and while we have this large amount of expenditure, let no man in this country expect to escape from taxation. I will not undertake to exempt the 10l. householders from taxation to meet the expenses of our establishments, if they send up to this House Members to vote an increase of those establishments. Already we are spending 16,000,000l. in the expenses of our establishments. Then let the middle class make up their minds that they must pay for this.
We are now, however, dealing particularly with the house-tax, which the Government propose to levy to meet the deficiency arising from the reduction of the malt-tax. If they can show me that there is a deficiency arising from an excess of expenditure, and that expenditure is supported by public opinion out of doors, I will lay that tax upon the shoulders of those who have sent Members to this House. But it is an entirely different thing when the Government propose to create a deficit by reducing the tax upon malt. I say there is no tax I will vote for—I know of no tax I would vote for—in substitution of the malt-tax. It is only in the case of a sufficient surplus that I would vote for the reduction or the abolition of the malt-tax; and that not being the case, I cannot vote for the reduction now proposed.
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