§ Mr. Calcraft
, rose pursuant to notice, to move for some returns respecting the salt duties, and though he was aware there would be no objection to his motion, yet he felt it necessary, upon this important subject, to state what he intended to do individually upon it. He was fully aware, when considering this subject in the committee, of the many evils and hardships which the duties produced; but he could not shut his eyes to the necessity of supporting the revenue at that time, and particularly so at the present. He could not lose sight of the fact, that these duties produced the sum of 1,500,000l. to the public treasury; and when he knew that the real applicable amount of what was called the sinking-fund was not more than that sum, he conceived it would be extremely delicate to touch the former. He felt that nothing could be effectually done to remove the evil, unless the tax were taken altogether from the excise; and that, he knew, was a thing which could not be done in the present state of the country. Between those two alternatives then, he had determined not to bring in any measure upon the subject in the present session. He hoped his countrymen would be induced to bear the tax a little longer, until some better financial prospect should open. At the same time, he thought some very useful regulations 1033 might be made; and these he had no doubt, would be made, by his right hon. friend (Mr. Wallace), in the bill which he intended to introduce. The hon. gentleman then went into some detail upon the severity with which some of the present arrangements bore upon particular branches of business; amongst others, he observed that bleachers suffered considerably, in consequence of the regulation, by which no less a quantity than 50 bushels were allowed at a time. This bore very heavily upon the smaller dealers, who, in consequence of not being able to take so large a quantity at a time, were obliged to pay 37s. per cwt. for salt, while it cost the large dealers no more than 7s. When he thus expressed his intentions of not bringing forward any measure upon the subject this session, he begged it might not be understood that he did so from any alteration of his opinions upon it, or from a fear that, if he brought forward any measure that it would not be supported; he knew that, if he did bring it forward, it would be supported; but he refrained from doing so from the conviction that it was necessary to keep up the revenue, in order to keep faith with the public creditor. He was not in despair as to the hope, that something would soon be done in the abolition of the tax. The hon. gentleman concluded by moving, "That there be laid before the House a return of the quantities of Salt delivered, duty free, in England, during the year 1818; distinguishing the purposes for which the same were so delivered."
§ Mr. Wallace
perfectly concurred in the statement of the hon. gentleman, that in the present state of the country, so large a portion of the revenues as the amount of the salt-duties could not be taken away. He heard, therefore, with pleasure, the hon. member's declaration, that he did not intend to agitate the question during the present session. The hon. member had alluded to the committee; he should say, that though the labours of that committee had not been productive of the result of removing the tax, yet great good had been obtained by them: they had examined into all the arguments and objections against the tax: they saw what were the evils to which it gave rise in some instances, and they also saw that many of those objections were without foundation, and that many of the evils ware highly exaggerated. He him- 1034 self believed that the article was a fair subject of taxation, and that the tax did not press with that severity which was described. It did not check any of our manufactories; the fisheries were not injured by it; for there was a supply sufficient to meet the demand; nor did he think it went to destroy the comforts, or subvert the morals of the poor. When he had heard, on former occasions, of the great quantities of salt which were to be used in agriculture, he was surprised that so small a share had been applied in that way. He hoped, however, that the time would come, when a much greater quantity would be used, with a less tax and a greater improvement to the revenue. He agreed that many improvements might be made in the regulations of the duties. The object of the bill which he intended to bring in would be to make such improvements.
§ Mr. Curwen
observed, that the tax under consideration was the most unjust and oppressive of which the country had to complain, and especially in its operation against the interest of agriculture. He was, from experience, enabled to speak of the great good that might be derived to agriculture from the use of salt. But this article was not merely beneficial to agriculture; for it was found of great utility to sheep, horned cattle and horses. Following the plan of that able and diligent individual, sir Thomas Barnard, he had made use of salt to some extent, and so had other agriculturists with whom he was acquainted. He was convinced it would be generally used by farmers, if it were not for the amount of the tax. He had indeed, no doubt, that the duty might be very materially reduced, without any diminution of the revenue, because that reduction would very much increase the consumption of salt. His calculation was, that were the duty materially reduced, the annual consumption of salt among the agriculturists, would be equal to between 2 and 300,000 tons. The reduction ought, with this view to amount to the difference between 34l. and 51. a ton; for the latter sum was quite enough; and he was sanguine enough to hope, that the propriety of such a reduction, would shortly be recognised by his majesty's ministers and by that House, as it was now universally felt throughout the country. The hon. mover deserved the thanks of the public for the 1035 judgment and perseverance with which he had followed up this important subject.
§ Mr. Davenport
implored ministers, as well as that House, seriously to consider the importance of salt to the agricultural interest, as well as to our fisheries, and expressed a hope that some measure would be adopted upon this subject, agreeably to the just claims of both.
said, that persons complained to him that the regulations were so vexatious, that they Would rather forego the advantages held out, than subject themselves to the vexation and inconvenience imposed upon them.
§ Dr. Phillimore
declared his conviction that the salt tax should be repealed altogether, because the existence of such a tax was repugnant to the primary principles of political economy. He therefore should feel great regret if the proceedings of the committee at the last session were to have no other termination than the adoption of such a bill as that alluded to. Thinking the tax under consideration to be totally pernicious, he could neither subscribe to the theories of the hon. mover, nor accede to the bill contemplated by the right hon. gentleman on the treasury bench; for in his opinion the tax should be done away with altogether, oppressive as it notoriously was upon the country. He would ask whether a tax which bore with so much severity upon the poor ought to be tolerated in any shape? Salt was so much an article of necessity, and in such general use among the poorer orders, that even were the tax reduced to the sum suggested by the hon. member for Carlisle, the effect would still be to subject every cottager to the payment of about two pounds a year. Thus the imposition would operate as an income tax to that amount upon a very useful, and the most distressed class in the country. He agreed, that the reduction of the tax would serve to render it more productive on the whole; but he was a decided enemy to the entire principle of the tax because it operated not only to oppress the poor, but to injure the interests of agriculture, and materially to impede the progress of our fisheries, by giving to foreigners who were exempt from any such tax a decisive advantage over our own countrymen. He threw out the consideration of the House, the propriety of reducing the tax progressively for Tour or five years, and then repealing the tax altogether.
§ Mr. Calcraft
said, he still retained the opinions with which he entered the committee of the last session, which opinions were indeed strengthened by the evidence taken before that committee, and therefore he adhered to the first resolution, which it adopted, namely, that it was desirable to repeal this tax, but that, from the state of our income and expenditure, the committee were restrained from instructing its chairman to move the House for a total repeal. He was himself thoroughly persuaded, that so long as salt was under the excise, the consumption of that article would not be as extensive as it might be, especially among the agriculturists. But an opportunity would next year offer of entering fully into the consideration of the subject—when a revision of the Irish taxes was to be expected. The difference between the Salt tax in Ireland and in Great Britain was very remarkable indeed; for while in England the tax was 15s. a bushel, and in Scotland 6s., the amount in Ireland was only 2s.; but most probably in the revision which was to be expected next year, arrangements would be made advantageous to all parties.
§ Mr. Tremayne
said, that every man who had read the minutes of the last committee must be satisfied of the necessity of the repeal of the tax, or the great lowering of the duty. The farmers would never use it generally, unless the duty was lowered.
Mr. V. Fitzgerald
said, that he could not allow himself to overlook the observation of the hon. mover with respect to the Comparatively reduced amount of the salt tax in Ireland. If the hon. member expected that an augmentation of the Salt duty in Ireland would be the result of any such revision as he had alluded to, that hon. member would, he had no doubt, find his calculation erroneous, since it was understood, that no advance was to take place in the articles of salt and coals.
§ Mr. Grenfell
observed, that no tax bore so hard upon the poorer classes as that of salt. He could hot, however; in the present state of our finances, press for the repeal of that tax, if a substitute for it were not provided; but so obnoxious was this tax, that he could not hesitate to express his readiness to, support any substitute in preference to it.
§ The motion was agreed to.