Speeches on Questions of Public Policy by Richard Cobden
[In December, 1852, Mr. Disraeli brought forward a Budget, the leading feature of which was a relaxation of the malt-duty, and the substitution of an equivalent to it, in a tax on inhabited houses. The Budget was received unfavourably, the Ministry collapsed, and with it the last attempt to maintain agricultural protection. On April 18, 1853, Mr. Gladstone, Chancellor of the Exchequer in Lord Aberdeen's Administration, proposed his scheme, which contained an extension of the legacy-duty, in a very modified form, to real estate, and the abolition of all duties on 123 articles. It proposed also a gradual abolition of the income-tax. Unfortunately, the aims which Mr. Gladstone had before him were not carried out, for, three days after the Budget resolutions were carried, Prince Menschikoff presented his ultimatum, and those diplomatic negotiations were commenced which ended in the Russian War.]
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his remarkable, nay, his marvellous speech, has dwelt with some emphasis—indeed, with a sort of pathos—on the extent to which the House, by its expenditure, has anticipated the surplus revenue, and the remarks on this subject, I think, have come from the right hon. Gentleman in a tone which seems to invite the special attention of the House to that particular part of his financial statement. I, for my part, rise thus early in the debate with the hope that I may induce the Committee, in taking a review of their public assets and liabilities, in their character of trustees of the people, anxious to do their best for the interests of those who have intrusted them with the management of their affairs, to pay some attention to the mode in which that surplus has been appropriated. I am not going to make a peace oration, nor am I going to blame this Government or the late Government for anything which either has done in the way of expenditure; those I blame in the matter are the parties out of doors, who, by their proceedings, have rendered it almost inevitable that the expenditure I so regret should be incurred. Nay, I will go even further, and thank the noble Lord (Aberdeen) at the head of the Government that he has not taken advantage of the opportunity which many silly and many, I fear, not over-honest people have given him to increase the expenditure still more largely. Had the noble Lord been so disposed, he might, in January last, have proposed an increase to the army of 20,000 men and to the navy of 10,000 men, and his proposal would have been received with acclamations—the unhappy Peace party escaping with, at the very least, a sound drenching under the pump, had they ventured to raise a murmur of objection. None the less is it a matter of deep regret that so large and permanent an increase to our establishments has been forced upon the Government. For how, let me ask, does the matter stand? Since 1851—I do not go back to 1835—since 1851, in two years we have added to our expenditure for army, navy, and ordnance, including the militia, the commissariat, and other outgoings of the same kind, no less a sum than 1,870,000l.
What I wish to call the attention of the House to, and particularly that of the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate), who said that the Manchester school were going to ruin the aristocracy—what I wish to call their attention to is, that if they had not since 1851, in those two years, made this addition to the expenditure, there would be at this moment in the hands of the Chancellor of the Exchequer a surplus large enough to enable him to make all the remissions and modifications he proposed to make, without any increase of taxation whatever. Do not let the hon. Member for North Warwickshire blame the Manchester school for the increased taxation that he said was going to ruin the aristocracy. I do not for a moment suggest that nothing should be spent on our armaments; I have been content that 10,000,000l. should be appropriated to that purpose; but the point to which I immediately invite attention is that, under the circumstances to which I have adverted, not merely has a sum of 15,555,000l. been expended in 1851 on our armaments, but since 1851 a further sum of 1,870,000l. has been appropriated to the same purpose. No wonder that, under such circumstances, the Chancellor of the Exchequer should touch in tones of pathos on the state of the surplus.
The cause of all this expenditure has been the panic which the public has taken into its head to conceive of a French invasion. Where is the panic now? So utterly dispersed that I can find no one who will even admit that he has ever entertained such a notion, much less that he feels it now. But, meanwhile, the mischief has been done; the additions to our expenditure have been made, and the public, who is the party to blame in the matter, will find that the additional expenditure it has occasioned will be for years and years to come an extra burden upon it. These additions to our establishments, once made, are not to be got rid of in a day; I will venture to say that the present generation of taxpayers will not altogether get rid of the additions to the taxation that they have been instrumental in creating in the course of the last two years.
Now, what are the items of the Budgets since 1851 for civil purposes, including the debt, and everything else except military and naval expenditure? Let the Committee mark how slightly the amount has varied. In 1851 the expenditure, other than naval and military, was 34,692,000l.; in 1852, 34,732,000l.; in 1853, 34,738,000l.; so that the whole increase on the civil expenditure, including the debt, for all purposes other than naval and military, is only 81,000l. on an amount of 34,000,000l.; whereas the increase on the naval and military expenditure has been 1,870,000l. on an expenditure of 15,000,000l.
It must be obvious to every one who wishes to see the policy carried out which the interests of the country demand, that, for this purpose, he must grapple with the naval and military expenditure. What I wish the Committee to take, along with me, from the outset, is the principle that the remission of indirect taxation is inevitable. You may arrive at this result by savings, the growth of a surplus revenue, of retrenchment, of increased revenue, the product of the increased prosperity of the country; but, assuredly, if you eat up such surplus by additions to the naval and military expenditure, you must, perforce, make up the difference by increased direct burdens upon property and income. Whoever holds the reins of power—whoever the Chancellor of the Exchequer may be—whether the right hon. Gentleman below me, or the right hon. Gentleman opposite, or any one else—the inevitable rule must be to aim at the reduction of the Customs and Excise duties, even at the expense of property and income. The right hon. Gentleman opposite, for example, proposes to take off the malttax, an indirect impost, and to meet the loss, so far as he can, by an additional tax on houses, which may fairly be considered a direct impost, and the right hon. Gentleman fell solely in that attempt to find a substitute for the malt-tax. If the present Government, powerful as it is, hardly sees its way to a majority large enough to carry its Budget, its difficulty is the finding of a direct tax sufficient to enable it to reduce indirect taxation.
I wish Gentlemen on both sides of the House to consider that we have come to a time when if they will be extravagant, they must be extravagant at the expense of property, and not at the expense of consumption. In these days, when every man has, at least on his lips, the profession of deep consideration for the poorer classes, it will never do to leave the main burden of taxation on consumption. More and more emphatically is it found that the prosperity of the country depends on the increase of consumption, this means increasing the employment of the masses, and this employment can alone be fostered by the removal of all impediments in the path of industry. These impediments, it must be borne in mind, tended to accumulate with the growth of the population, and therefore it becomes daily more necessary to provide for their removal.
The Committee is well aware of the great and just cry of alarm that has proceeded from our merchants, in consequence of the obstacles placed in the way of commerce by our Custom-house regulations. Those regulations were bad enough when we had to deal with only 30,000,000l. or 40,000,000l. of exports and imports; they are grievous, utterly insupportable, now that, instead of from 30,000,000l. to 40,000,000l., we have to deal with from 70,000,000l. to 80,000,000l. of exports and imports. Further, it is to be considered how enormously the velocity of communication has increased, so that, by the aid of steam, the traffic which once occupied forty days on its way to America, now effects its transit in twelve. This alone is a circumstance imperatively demanding that measures should be taken, by a reform of the Customs' regulations, to expedite, and most materially to expedite, the entry and exit of goods.
As our fiscal regulations now stand, the free bale of cotton is delayed in its admission, that it may be overhauled so as to be shown to be not a bale of tobacco, which has 3s. per pound of duty to pay before it passes. But to effect that change with reference to tobacco, the duty must be reduced to 3d. or 6d. in the pound, otherwise the object would fail altogether. I hope there will not be such an increase of smoking in this country as to enable the revenue from a 3d. or 6d. duty to be as much as from a 3s. or 4s. duty: and the fact is, that there will be a loss of some millions annually. How are you to deal with that, except by increasing direct taxation? But this is not the case with tobacco only, but with other matters. You must make up your minds to a constant remission of these taxes. As was stated last year by the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli), every year since 1842 has witnessed the constant remission of these indirect taxes. The right hon. Gentleman has not, indeed, proposed anything of that sort himself; but there is a selfacting process in the sugar-duties which was effecting that change even last year. This will and must go on.
I come now to the practical question before us. There is at present virtually a deficiency; because I look upon the remission of indirect taxes as so inevitable, that, though the right hon. Gentleman has a surplus of 300,000l. or 400,000l., yet he is obliged to create fresh taxes in order to meet the imperative demand for the repeal of indirect taxation. The right hon. Gentleman proposes, then, the continuance of the property and income tax; and he has done so with some arguments very elaborate, very able, and, I may say, very subtle. I must observe, that the part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech in which he dealt with the income-tax is, to my mind, the least satisfactory of all. It was the most declamatory, and appeared, as all such appeals did, to be the least conclusive. The right hon. Gentleman began by an allusion to Mr. Pitt, and said, that that tax having served its purpose during the war, it ought therefore not to be used in time of peace. But, surely, it is time that we had done with that argument, because there is always this answer to it—that other taxes did their work also during the war. The Customs and the Excise were during the war, and, if that were any reason, they ought to put by that grant of the Custom-house, as they proposed to do the grant of the income-tax, and let us remain in repose until we had another war. But no one proposed that. Why not? Is there anything intrinsically worse in the income-tax than in the tax upon tea and wine? In what way is it worse? Does it give rise to greater oppression in its incidence? Why, how large a proportion of the income of a poor man's family is spent on the ounce or half-ounce of tea which he buys every two or three days! There is the same duty upon his tea, which might be purchased in the bonded warehouse at 10½d. per pound, that there is upon the finest-flavoured pekoe or gunpowder-hyson, that might cost 5s. or 6s. per pound. Is there anything in the income-tax more unequal in its pressure than that? Take, again, the wine duty. The gentleman's bottle of Lafitte, which might cost him 5s. in the cellar of the grower, pays precisely the same duty as the bottle of vin ordinaire, which may be bought in the south of France for 2d. Is there anything in the income-tax more unequal or more unjust than that?
In this way I might go through the whole list of excisable articles, and I should find that in the most necessary articles of consumption the poor family approached more nearly to the rich family than in any other thing. When we lay a tax upon commodities which enter into the daily consumption of the poor, we may be sure that the mass of the people pay a far larger sum in proportion to their incomes than the rich.
Well, then, why are we to make an exception with respect to the income-tax as compared with the other great taxes which served Mr. Pitt in the time of war? Is it because it offends the law of political economy—because it takes more from the pockets of the people than arrives at the Exchequer? No. I question whether we might not collect direct taxes cheaper than any indirect taxes. Is it because it impedes industry more than indirect taxation? On the contrary, however oppressive it might be felt to be upon other grounds, I have never heard that it interfered with the progress of industry, or impeded commerce in any way whatever. Is it the demoralisation that flows from it? Does it produce greater evils than other taxes by demoralising the trader? Does not the levving of the Excise duty produce more demoralisation than any direct tax could possibly do? Let us take, for instance, the case of the tobacco and snuff trade. I remember being present in the Chamber of Commerce in Manchester when a deputation, consisting of a great number of tobacco-manufacturers in Manchester and the neighbourhood, waited upon them to expose the adulterations which were carried on in the trade, and to endeavour to induce the Chamber to interfere to effect some alteration in the duties. Those gentlemen, who were the largest dealers and manufacturers in the neighbourhood, stated frankly—after exposing all the different articles with which tobacco was coloured and adulterated, such as the beard from malt, peatmoss, and things of that kind—that there was not a man in that neighbourhood who carried on the tobacco and snuff trade without illegal adulterations, except Mr. Reed, a gentleman who was present; and Mr. Reed left the trade, and, though he was nearly forty years of age, went to Cambridge, and was now in holy orders. Can you find anything worse than that in the income-tax?
With regard to the criminality arising out of these taxes, let any one go to one of the maritime counties—inquire of the chairman of quarter sessions—go to the gaol at Winchester, or anywhere upon the south coast—and ask what is the number of commitments for smuggling. Let him inquire of the overseers how many children are left destitute and chargeable to the parish, because their parents had fled the country for smuggling. I ask, is there any demoralisation in the income-tax that can be compared with that? The right hon. Gentleman has alluded to the mode of self-assessment as offering temptations to fraud, which are in many cases irresistible. I will suggest whether that might be remedied. I do not see why any one should be called upon to assess himself at all. In America, where direct taxation is levied for all the purposes of the separate States, the taxpayers elect an assessor—an experienced, discreet, sober man of the town or neighbourhood,—and he assesses the value of his neighbour's property. Why should not that system be adopted in England? Then, the assessors having made their assessment, if the party chooses to make oath that he is surcharged, or to produce his books, he would have the same means of redress as in America. The advantage is, that there will be no temptations held out to men to state their property at less than it is.
But there is another thing. It has been found in America that a man has less aversion to an exposure of the amount of his property, when it was known to be only the assessment of others, than he has to expose his own assessment of his property. The consequence is, that you would see, as I have seen in Boston,—I have had the book in my own hands,—a printed list of everybody's assessment in Boston. There is Mr. Abbott Lawrence, for example, figuring away with some 700,000 or 800,000 dollars of personal, and a certain amount of real property. I do not find that there was any grievance complained of there; and, after two or three years of assessment, you arrive at a much better notion of a man's income than when you take his own return, because the people who are appointed assessors see from time to time the changes that are going on in the establishments, the evidences of prosperity, or the reverse. As a rule, we estimate at its true value what the amount of our neighbour's property is. I think that this deserves the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I hope that it will be taken into consideration by the public at large.
The right hon. Gentleman has stated that he cannot agree to any modification of the income-tax. Now, I believe that there is one fallacy which runs through the right hon. Gentleman's argument upon that subject, which I should have thought could have scarcely escaped so acute a logician. It all amounts to this,—'Don't show me that you can at all diminish the evil; I'll show you that the evil still remains behind, and therefore I will not allow you to touch it.' Admitting the grievance, as I understand the right hon. Gentleman does, can anybody doubt, if you put trades and professions at 5d., and real property at 7d., that there will not be to some extent a diminution of the injustice? It is true you have terminable annuities besides. It is true that when you come to deal with them and with life-interests, the actuaries may bring you an arithmetical puzzle, which will never work in practice, however well it may look on paper. But the right hon. Gentleman has not told them that they will not be doing some good by mitigating at least the evil which he has admitted. I have no hesitation in confessing, as the result of my experience in the Committee, that there are greater difficulties in the question than I had expected. I have no hesitation in saying so. I went into this question seven or eight years ago, with great confidence as to the practicability of effecting all that was required, but I have found that I was wrong; and my hon. friend, also the Member for Stoke-upon-Trent, who is a great deal deeper in these mysteries than I am, admitted the same thing. But I cannot say that the right hon. Gentleman has shown good grounds for doing nothing; for, if we were to determine upon doing nothing until we arrived at perfection, why then I am afraid that we must put an end to all sublunary things.
Now, there is one matter with respect to my votes on the income-tax which I think requires a little explanation. In 1842, I resisted Sir R. Peel's attempt to impose the income-tax, and for this avowed reason,—that you were retaining the monopoly on corn, that you were refusing to deal with the sugar-duties, that you were therefore destroying the revenue, and that at the same time you wished him to join in imposing a tax in order to repair the mischief which you were committing. I would act in the same way to-morrow if I were in the same circumstances. In 1848, I voted for Mr. Horsman's motion for a modification; but I voted against my hon. friend's the Member for Montrose's motion, to levy the income-tax only for a year, in order that he might have a committee. That I did upon the avowed ground that my hon. friend wanted to unite himself with gentlemen on the other side of the question, and that he did not want to modify, but to abolish the tax, while he (Mr. Cobden) wished to preserve the tax. My hon. friend, however, ultimately obtained his committee, and I cannot say that harm has resulted from it. Having taken that course in times past, I have the income-tax now presented to me again without modification by a Government which I believe will stand or fall by the declaration that they will not agree to any modification. I have at the same time presented to me another portion of the Budget, which I believe goes far to redress the inequality which existed in the old income-tax, and which is a bold and honest proposal. Whatever might be the fate of the Budget, the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues, at all events, have earned for themselves the merit of straightforward and honest conduct, by dealing with that which defeated Mr. Pitt in the plenitude of his power, and which no one had attempted to deal with since—I mean the legacy-duty. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman the late Chancellor of the Exchequer was disposed to have recommended that this question should be dealt with. I am quite sure that it would have been dealt with by somebody—that public opinion would have done it; and I must say, looking at the income-tax, coupled with the legacy-duty, and viewing them as the key-stone of the arch of this Budget, I shall take them both, and shall take them with both hands. Though I myself have spoken as strongly as anybody can speak in this House in favour of the professional man, as well as in the interest of the mercantile and manufacturing community, I am bound to say that I have not found in the north of England any very active opposition to the equal rate of duty laid upon all classes. I believe there is more feeling of resistance and of suffering under the inquisitorial character of the tax among mercantile men and trading capitalists than there is upon the score of the unjust assessment of the tax. I beg that I may not be misunderstood upon this point. I am only speaking for Lancashire and Yorkshire, and I do not wish it to be thought, from what I say, that there is not among traders and professional men elsewhere a strong feeling against this tax. To be very frank upon this subject, I believe that in Lancashire and Yorkshire there is a feeling among the population that a compensation is afforded by the mode in which the surplus gained from the income-tax is disposed of; I mean by the extension of commerce and the freeing of industry from the fetters that bound it. They submit to the income-tax, therefore, without murmuring, partly from the feeling that it is inevitable, and partly from the belief that they receive some compensation in their trades. That will not operate with professional men, or with small traders in rural districts; but I think that the legacy-duty laid upon real property—although I should wish to view that question per se, and not as a compensation, though we are made up of checks and compensations in this country—is, if not an equivalent, at least some compensation, to those very classes, the professional and trading people, and ought to tend to reconcile them to the tax in its present form. I think that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has acted wisely in extending the tax to incomes of 100l. As an advocate for direct taxation, I would, as an abstract principle, levy it upon everybody, where the tax could be collected with a profit. When I say 'as an abstract principle,' I am assuming that no other tax existed; but in this country, where so much is already laid upon the mass of the people by indirect taxes, where they paid far more in proportion to their means than the upper classes, it became necessary to compensate them by levying upon the property of those who were richer a direct tax. I do not say that, in the present circumstances of this country, I would propose to levy the income-tax upon all wages; but I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer has acted very wisely in drawing his line at 100l. As I have before said, the working people of this country pay a very large amount in indirect taxation. They are sometimes told of the large amount of Customs and Excise which have been remitted; but a great fallacy lurked under that. In point of fact, we had not by that means diminished the taxes upon the working people, but we had been very cleverly and industriously shifting the burden ever since the days of Mr. Huskisson and Mr. Grant. We have taken the load off the head, and put it on the shoulders; or we have been strapping it up under the arms in all kinds of ways, so as to gall less; but the burden was borne just as before. Let me give an illustration of this. The amount of Customs and Excise duties paid in this country in 1831, which was before the Reform Bill, was 35,680,000l. The estimates of Customs and Excise for the coming year is 35,320,000l., so that there is only 360,000l. less paid now for indirect taxes than in 1831, although during the interval Customs and Excise duties have been repealed to the extent of from 12,000,000l. to 15,000,000l. per annum. There has been an increase in the population, of course; but that does not affect the question to an extent some people may suppose.
I come now to deal with the question of applying the income-tax to Ireland, which seems to be the great difficulty with the Government upon the present occasion. I hope hon. Gentlemen from Ireland will not suppose that I am anxious to impose any unjust burdens upon them. I am an advocate of religious and fiscal equality to the most perfect point. I have given a proof that, as regards religious equality, whatever might be the odium or passing obloquy which I may suffer from a partial outbreak of bigotry in this country, nothing shall induce me to put a fetter upon the consciences of Roman Catholics. If I could make them so, they should be as free to exercise the practices and observances of their faith in England as if they were to cross the Atlantic and go to the United States. I want the same thing in commercial and fiscal questions; but there must be a perfect equality between the two. I mean that the taxes which are paid in this country must be paid in the other. I do not want to levy heavy burdens upon either England or Ireland. If I had my will, they should both pay less than they did now. But what I say is, that there is no safety for the proper working of the Legislature so long as there are Members sitting in it from parts of the kingdom where the people paid less taxes than in other parts of the kingdom. I have seen the working of this system for some time, and I will tell the hon. Gentlemen from Ireland what were the symptoms I have observed in consequence of the discrepancy in the amount of taxation. I have observed that the Irish Members take little interest in Imperial expenditure, unless upon some questions where there is a transfer of taxes from the general Exchequer to some locality in Ireland. Hence their fights about that bauble, the Lord-Lieutenancy; hence their fights about Kilmainham Hospital, although it is a mere nest of jobbing. Hon. Gentlemen will allow me to say, that I have had an opportunity of hearing something of Kilmainham, having sat upon a Committee where that matter was brought before us. And, therefore, I speak with some knowledge of the circumstances of the case. What is the reason that no statesman has ever dreamt of proposing that the colonies should sit with the mother country in a common Legislature? It was not because of the space between them, for, now-a-days, travelling was almost as quick as thought; but because the colonies, not paying Imperial taxation, and not being liable for our debt, could not be allowed with safety to us, or with propriety to themselves, to legislate on matters of taxation in which they were not themselves concerned. What happened on the very last occasion on which I addressed myself to the question of the Budget? I followed the hon. Member for Belfast (Mr. Davison), who rose to support a proposition for doubling the house-tax, and laying on an income-tax upon my constituents at Barnsley and Leeds. Those constituents were largely engaged in the linen-trade; the hon. Gentleman's constituents at Belfast were also engaged in the same kind of trade; and the hon. Gentleman got up and declared his intention to vote, that taxes from which his own constituents were free should be laid upon my constituents, at Barnsley and Leeds. But I want to know how that hon. Member is going to vote now? If he were now to vote against putting on a similar tax on his profits at Belfast, I want no better proof that they ought never to allow Members to sit in the same House representing different interests, where they could help a Minister to impose taxes on their neighbours on condition that they were not imposed on themselves. How would the case be if they allowed representatives from the colonies to sit in this House? An ambitious and unscrupulous Minister would be sure to make use of them, if they were not possessed of that virtue which ordinary men have not, for the purpose of oppressing the English people. The Minister would say, `Help me in such a case, and I'll help you to prevent England from putting some tax on Canada.' The consequence might be, that we should have an irresponsible Government—that we should have constant coups d'état, until the people rose and declared for a separation. On the present occasion, the Government, true to the invariable system of compromises, has proposed to grant the Members for Ireland a very large boon indeed, if they will only accept their quota of the income-tax. Now, knowing what I do of the temper of the people out of doors, I will whisper to the hon. Members,—'Close with the bargain, and give the Government your vote.' And why do I say so? Because, if I understand the matter aright, it is proposed to give the Irish almost as much as they asked them to pay. I believe that it is almost an equivalent. But I beg hon. Members for Ireland to look at the exchange, and see how it puts them out of court as the advocates of the poor in Ireland; because, as I understand the matter, the consolidated annuity-tax is levied upon the poor farmers of Ireland. Of course it is levied one-half upon the landlord and one-half upon the tenant, down to those under 5l. rent. Now, the class of poor tenants above 5l. is to be relieved, according to the proposal of the Government, and an income-tax imposed instead upon all persons having incomes of 100l. a year and upwards. Now, I beg hon. Members to remember, that it is only farmers paying 200l. a year and upwards of rent who would be liable to pay income-tax; and I will ask them to consider how few farmers there were in Ireland who have rents to that amount. I believe that 100l. a year is considered a very genteel income in Ireland. People there live much cheaper than here; there are no assessed taxes, and provisions are cheaper. Persons with 100l. a year in Ireland, then, are quite as well, if not better, able to pay income-tax than people of the same class in England. I have heard a great deal said about the amount of English indebtedness to Ireland, and of Irish indebtedness in Ireland. The hon. Member for South Lancashire (Mr. Brown), himself an Irishman, has estimated that Ireland was in England's debt 300,000,000l. The hon. Member for Glasgow (Mr. M'Gregor), who, judging from his name, had some Celtic blood in his veins, has put down the debt at 160,000,000l.; while the late Mr. O'Connell has put down the amount the other way, and declared that England is indebted to Ireland 60,000,000l. I would say, 'Let the Statute of Limitations apply to both sides. Let Irish Members make up their minds to pay the same taxes as the people of England, and unite with us in advocating retrenchment and economy.' I assure those Members that the thing is inevitable, and that if a dissolution were to take place on the question of the equalisation of taxes—although, no doubt, Ireland would be disposed to avoid taxation, if possible—the thing would be settled without them.
There is another point I wish to refer to, and that is the question respecting licences, which the right hon. Gentleman, I believe, has said is still under consideration. On that question I think the right hon. Gentleman has erred on a matter of principle. I cannot understand on what principle the right hon. Gentleman is going to lay a tax on all traders who deal in tea or tobacco. I can understand why the Excise should require a dealer who sold tea, tobacco, or other articles where surveillance was thought to be necessary, to register themselves, and perhaps pay a nominal fee, but I confess I cannot understand why traders who already pay large taxes should be asked to pay, in addition, an ad valorem duty on their rent for licences to carry on their business, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will alter that part of his plan.
Then, with regard to the advertisement duty, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not 'make two bites at a cherry' in that matter. I want to see the connection between the press and the Government altogether dissolved. [Laughter.] I know what that laugh refers to. It is an illustration of what I mean to argue. It has been stated that the right hon. Gentleman, in proposing to remit the stamp upon supplements containing only advertisements, would be giving a boon to only one paper; and very free remarks have been passed as to what were his motives in giving that boon to a particular paper. Now, I do not believe the right hon. Gentleman is capable of doing that. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman has with all parties in this House too much credit for sincerity and truthfulness to be supposed capable of being a party to a transaction of this kind; but suspicions are entertained on the subject out of doors,—and how have they arisen? They have arisen because Government were enabled to deal with the tax in a manner which favoured one particular newspaper. And so with the advertisement duty. That also keeps up a connection between the Government and the newspaper press. Certain newspapers want that duty off, and others want it kept on, and Government are tempted to watch and weigh the rival influences, and shape their public course accordingly. I repeat that, in my opinion, the Government should have no connection with the press whatever. I hope, therefore, that if they adhere to their resolution, and deal with the advertisement duty at all, they will abolish it altogether.
And if he deals with the stamp-duty, the right hon. Gentleman must not—as I believe he is now fully aware—deal with it in a manner which would merely favour one newspaper at present, and not more than three or four prospectively. If the right hon. Gentleman should be persuaded by the proprietors of some large provincial newspapers to alter his plans, so as to continue the penny stamp on newspapers—allowing supplements to go free, whether they contain news or advertisements, or both together—he would be falling into an error similar in character, though not so great in degree, to that into which he fell when he proposed to remit the stamp on supplements which contained advertisements only; because, if he did, there would, at the outside, be only some half-score of newspapers, which were at present in the habit of publishing supplements, which would at all be benefited by it. And how would it act prospectively? It would act in the opposite way to that which the right hon. Gentleman has laid down with regard to licences, for in that case he proposed to levy the tax in proportion to the business which the parties carried on.
But what will be the effect of the plan to which I have just referred with regard to newspapers? It will allow a newspaper twice the size of the Times to be published with a penny stamp, while it will impose the samesum of a penny upon the small struggling paper not half the size of one sheet of the Times. And I beg hon. Members to mark the effect. The small sheet, having to pay the same tax as the large sheet, will be placed under an immense disadvantage. I have seen in Lancashire, whenever a newspaper publishes a supplement, and gives it to its readers, such is the desire of readers to have a great mass of matter, that all the other papers in the district were obliged also to publish a supplement, or be trampled under foot. If, then, the right hon. Gentleman levies the same stamp upon two sheets as he levies upon one, allowing both news and advertisements to appear in the supplemental sheet, you may depend upon it that the effect will be to destroy all the second and third-rate newspapers. I beg hon. Members opposite to bear this in mind, for I believe that some of the newspapers in their interest are not in the most thriving condition.
I will put this case of the stamp-duty to the test of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's own principles. The right hon. Gentleman said, that if a man kept a gig with two wheels he should pay 15s., but that if he kept a carriage with four wheels he should pay double. But in the case of newspapers he reverses the rule, for he makes the four-in-hand pay only the same tax as a gig. Then, again, with regard to the licensing duty, he proposes an ad valorem tax on the rent of a man's shop. If a man happens to have such a prosperous trade that his shop is overflowing with customers, and he is not able to carry on his business on his old premises, does the right hon. Gentleman propose to allow him to open a supplemental shop, and pay only one tax? The question, it will thus be seen, would not bear the test of the right hon. Gentleman's own principles. The right hon. Gentleman must either not touch the stamp-duty at all, or he must be prepared to allow newspapers to be taxed according to weight or size when sent by post, and allow them to be sold on the spot where they are published without a stamp.
With respect to the rest of the Budget, I am glad to find that the soap-duty is to be abolished. That tax has long been a standing reproach on this country. It has marked the hypocrisy of all the pretences to cleanliness, and often, when I have heard of meetings on sanitary reform, I have thought of the soap-tax, and felt ashamed of my country. And so with regard to the paper-duty. You talk of promoting education, and yet here is a tax on the material by which knowledge is conveyed. This, also, will stamp us with hypocrisy on that subject so long as it remains.
I will only add, that I hope this Budget, in its main provisions, will pass this House. I believe, so far as I have had an opportunity of judging, that it is generally acceptable to the country. The imposition of the legacy-tax will remove a sore which has been festering in the minds of the people of this country for a long time. In the interest of the parties concerned, I would say, the sooner that tax was put on the better. I would say, both to the landed gentlemen and the Irish Members, 'Take on your burdens, and it will be the better for you in the end.' I am told that the Members of the other House are looking on with great solemnity. There, they are in possession; but in the House of Commons many hon. Members were only expectants. I was breakfasting with a gentleman of the diplomatic corps the other morning; the conversation was in French, and my host said it was very easy to explain why the Chamber of Peers would be favourable to the tax, and the Commons not: because the one is a Chambre des Pairs (Pères), and the other is a Chambre des Fils.
There is another point which I wish to allude to before I sit down. I want to be very honest with the House about the income-tax. They are told that that tax was to continue till 1860 only. Now, I am sorry that I cannot give my sanction to that idea. My belief is that we must go on remitting indirect taxes; and I should not be honest if I said that I saw any prospect of our being able to do away with the income-tax in 1860. There are certainly but two ways in which it could be done. It could only be done either by substituting some other tax in its place, or by a very large retrenchment in the amount of our expenditure. Some means or other must be found available for the Chancellor of the Exchequer for his meeting the constant demands upon him for the remission of indirect taxes; and I do not see, therefore, how we can afford to part with the income-tax. I do not, however, for a moment doubt the sincerity of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the matter. I am quite sure, that if the right hon. Gentleman is in Parliament in 1860, and holds a responsible position, he will rather give up his office than be a party to anything like a breach of faith. But it is melancholy to think how few of us may be in Parliament in 1860. I hope the right hon. Gentleman and all of us may be alive then; but, even if they are, who can bind the Parliament that will assemble in 1860? I beg, therefore, to be understood as not pledging myself in favour of the abrogation of the income-tax in 1860.
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