The History and Proceedings of the House of Commons: Volume 7, 1727-1733. Originally published by Chandler, London, 1742.
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Debate concerning a Call of the House, in Expectation of the Excise-Scheme being brought in.
Sir J. Rushout.
'I do not rise up to oppose putting off the Call of the House 'till this Day Fortnight; that I shall easily agree to: But there being, as I imagine, a certain Scheme or Project to be brought into this House, which seems to be of very great Consequence to the whole Nation; I with that the Call of the House may be appointed to be about the Time, when that Scheme is to be laid before us. For my Part, I know nothing about it, I cannot tell when we are to have the Pleasure of seeing that famous Project; but I wish that some Gentleman, who knows more of it than I do, would get up and six a Day when he thinks it will be brought in, and then move that the Call of the House may be put off' till that Day, or till some Day about that Time.
'We have been long in Expectation of seeing this glorious Scheme, which is to render us all compleatly happy we have waited for it with Impatience ever since the Beginning of this Session of Parliament; we imagined, as had been insinuated to us in the preceding Session, that it was to come in lieu of the One Shilling in the Pound Land-Tax, as a Supply for the current Service of the Year; but in this we are disappointed; that Measure has, it seems, been alter'd, and we have seen this Ease as to the Land-Tax otherways supply'd. I do not know whether the Scheme itself has lately met with any Alterations or Amendments, but I hope, if it be to be laid before us this Session, that it will not be put off' till towards the End of the Session, when Gentlemen are tired out with Attendance, and obliged to return home to mind their own private Affairs. If a Scheme of that Consequence be at all brought in, it certainly ought to be brought in when the House is full, that it may be consider'd, and approv'd or rejected, by as many Members as can possibly be brought together. As soon as the Time for its being brought in shall be fixed, and the Call of the House accordingly appointed, then I shall take the Liberty to move for Letters to the Sheriffs, as has been often practised on the like Occasions.'
Sir R. Walpole.
'As to the Scheme mention'd by the honourable Gentleman who spoke last, it is certain that I have a Scheme which I intend very soon to lay before you. I am resolved very soon to make a Motion, for this House to go into a Committee of the whole House on something or another; I have not, indeed, as yet fully determin'd what my Motion shall be, but I suppose it will be for this House to go into a Committee on the State of the publick Revenue, or on the Frauds committed in the collecting thereof, or on the Frauds committed in some particular Branch or Branches of the Revenue; it must be, I believe, a Motion to some such Purpose: If the Call of the House be appointed for this Day Fortnight, I believe I shall be fully determin'd between this and that Time, and so be able to move for some such Committee; the House may then appoint a Day for going into the Committee moved for, that so every Member may have Notice to attend if he pleases.
'I do not desire, I never did desire to surprise this House into any Thing, nor had, I thank God, ever any Occasion to use the low Art of taking Advantage of the End of the Session, for any Thing I had to propose or would propose to this House; but when the House does resolve itself into some such Committee as I now mention, I will then lay before that Committee a Scheme which I have long thought of, which is, I am convinced, for the Good of the Nation, and which, if agreed to, will improve both the Trade of the Nation and the publick Revenue. I never had any Intention to propose it as a Supply for the current Service of the Year; I was always sensible that no such Thing could be done; but if it be agreed to, and if upon a Trial it be found to bring in any Addition to the publick Revenue, this House may then dispose of that Increase in the following Session of Parliament as they shall judge proper; 'till then it cannot be appropriated, because 'till then it cannot be known what the Amount may be. When the Amount of the Increase of the Revenue thereby is once ascertained, that Increase may then be brought in Aid of the One Shilling in the Pound LandTax, and thereby that Ease may be continu'd to the poor Land-holders for Years to come, if so the future Parliaments shall think fit.
'As for the Scheme's having receiv'd Alterations and Amendments, I do not know but it may; I never thought myself so wise as to stand in no Need of Assistance; on the contrary, I am always ready to receive Advice and Instruction from others, and I shall always be ready to add, to alter, or to amend any Thing I have thought of, by the Advice, and upon the Information of those who are conversant in such Affairs. As to the Scheme now talk'd of, I have not only examin'd it by myself as thoroughly as I could, but I have taken from others all the Assistance and Advice I could get; and in all my Inquiries in relation thereto, I have chose to consult with those who, I knew, had a perfect Knowledge of such Affairs, and had no particular Interest in View, nor any private End to serve: From those who may have By-Ends of their own, I never can expect impartial Counsel, and therefore I have in this, as well as every other Affair, thought it ridiculous to ask their Advice. Such as it is, I shall be soon ready to lay it before you; then I shall give you all the Information I have had in the Affair, and will be most ready to hear and receive all the Information or Instruction, that can be given by any Gentleman in this House.
'It is certain that there are daily very great Frauds committed in the collecting of the publick Revenue, and if any Way can be fallen on to prevent those Frauds, and to enable the Publick to receive what it is now justly and legally intitled to, such a Project ought to be embrac'd, and the Author thereof, whoever he may be, would deserve the Thanks of his Country; for it would not only be a great Advantage to the publick Revenue, but to every honest and fair. Trader in the Nation; because that wherever a Tax is laid on; and not collected regularly and duly from every Man subject thereto, it is really making the fair Trader pay to the Publick what the fraudulent Trader turns into his own private Pocket, and thereby the Smuggler is enabled to undersell the fair Trader in every Commodity he deals in; by which all the fair Traders in the Nation must be at last ruin'd and undone.'
Sir W. Wyndham.
'I have not the Honour of being let into the Secret of this extraordinary Scheme, I do not as yet know what it is; but by all that I could ever yet hear of it, I believe, when it is laid before us, the Question thereon will appear to be, Whether we shall sacrifice the Constitution to the preventing of Frauds in the Revenue? This I take to be a very material Question, and therefore I think it is absolutely necessary to have a full House; for which Reason, I shall be not only for Letters to the Sheriffs, but also I hope that every Gentleman in this House will write to such of his Friends in the Country as are Members, and intreat them to give Attendance on that important Day.'
Sir John Barnard.
'When the honourable Gentleman is prepared to lay his Scheme before us, I hope he will move for some General Committee; if he does, I shall not give the House any Trouble; but if he moves for a Committee to consider the Frauds in any particular Branch of the Revenue, I shall take the Liberty to oppose it, because there are Frauds in every Branch of the Revenue; and perhaps I shall be able to shew, that there are as many Frauds in other Branches of the Revenue, as there are in those which the honourable Gentleman has a Mind now to take a particular Notice of. I must think that the attaching our Inquiries at present to the Frauds committed in any particular Branch, is like singling out a Deer from the Flock, in order to be hunted down; she is to be the first Sacrifice, but the whole Flock are to be hunted down at last: This, I believe, is the Case, and if I have been rightly informed, this Scheme, in its first Conception, was for a General Alteration of the Method of collecting the publick Revenue: It was for a General Excise; but that, it seems, was afterwards thought too much at once, and therefore we are now, I suppose to single out only one or two Branches, in order that they may be first hunted down; but the very same Reason, that may prevail with us to subject any one Branch of the Revenue to the Laws of Excise, may afterwards prevail with us to subject every Branch to those Arbitrary Laws; and as such Laws are, in my Opinion, absolutely inconsistent with Liberty, therefore I must think that the Question upon this Scheme, even alter'd as it seems it is, will be, Whether we shall endeavour to prevent Frauds in the collecting of the Publick Revenues, at the Expence of the Liberties of the People?
'For my own Part, I never was guilty of any Fraud; I put it to any Man, be he who he will, to accuse me of so much as the Appearance of a Fraud in any Trade I was ever concern'd in; I am resolved never to be guilty of any Fraud. It is very true, that these Frauds are a very great Prejudice to all fair Traders, and therefore I speak against my own Interest when I speak against any Method that may tend towards preventing of Frauds; but I shall never put my private Interest in Ballance with the Interest or Happiness of the Nation: I had rather beg my Bread from Door to Door, and see my Country flourish, than be the greatest Subject in the Nation, and see the Trade of my Country decaying, and the People enslaved and oppressed.'
Mr H. Pelham.
'I wish this Scheme, be what it will, were laid before us; for 'till it is, I believe we shall every Day be falling into some Debate or other about it, without knowing any Thing of it. I do not know where the honourable Gentleman, who spoke last, got his Information; but as I have had the Honour to converse sometimes with those who always knew most of this Scheme, I can assure him that there never was any such Thing intended as a General Excise, nor was there ever any Design of making a General Alteration in the Method of collecting the Publick Revenue. But I shall not at present say any Thing farther upon the Subject, because I think it a little odd to enter into Debates about what we know nothing of.'
Mr Perry. ; The Call of the House put off to the 13th of March, and the Sheriffs order'd to write to the Members to attend, &c.
Then Mr Perry, Member for London, spoke in Vindication of the Merchants dealing in the Wine and Tobacco-Trade: After which the Question was put, and the Call of the House was put off 'till that Day Fortnight; and it was ordered, That no Member of the House should presume to go out of Town without Leave of the House: That no Leave should be asked for any Member to go out of Town, but between the Hours of One and Two: And that Mr Speaker should write circular Letters to the Sheriffs and Stewards of the several Counties of Great Britain, requiring the Attendance of the Members on that Day Fortnight; and that the House would proceed with the utmost Severity against such Members as should not then attend the Service of the House.
Mr Sandys moves to resolve, That such Members, who should absent themselves without Leave, be declar'd Deserters of their Trust; which is oppos'd by Mr H. Walpole. ; Debate thereon.
Then Mr Sandys moved for the House to resolve, 'That such Members of that House, who should absent themselves without Leave of the House, should be reputed Deserters of their Trust, and Neglecters of that Duty they owed to that House and their Country.' Hereupon several Members got up, some of whom as was thought to have seconded this Motion; but Mr Horatio Walpole was pointed to by Mr Speaker, who said, 'That he was against the Motion the honourable Gentleman had been pleased to make, as being a very extraordinary one, and such as there was then no Occasion for, and therefore he moved for the Order of the Day, which Motion was immediately seconded. Sir John Rushout then said, That the Motion his Friend [Mr Sandys] had made, was perhaps a little extraordinary, but it was upon a very extraordinary Occasion, and not without Precedent, and therefore he would be for it.' To this Sir William Yonge reply'd, ' That an honourable Gentleman [Sir William Wyndham] had said, 'That every Member ought to write to his Friends in the Country, and desire them to give Attendance; but if the Motion then made should be agreed to, they might, in his Opinion, save themselves the Trouble, for that no Member then in the Country would think he had one Friend in the House, if any such Resolution should be made against him.' Hereupon Mr Sandys said, That what he had moved for, was so far from being without Precedent, that there was a Precedent for it very lately, and that was in the famous Case of Dr Sacheverel: That when that Affair was before the House there was such a Resolution made, and from thence it was that he took the very Words of the Motion he had then made.'
Then the Question was put upon Mr Walpole's Motion for the Order of the Day, because of its having been seconded before Mr Sandys's Motion was seconded, and that being carried in the Affirmative, the other was dropp'd of course.
Debate concerning a Petition from Rhode-Island and Providence, against the Sugar-Colony Bill. ; Mr Perry. ; Sir W. Yonge.
March 8. A Bill was brought in pursuant to the Resolutions of the House in July last, in relation to the SugarColonies; upon which Sir John Barnard opened to the House a Petition of Richard Partridge, Agent for the Colony of Rhode-Island and Providence Plantations in America, against the said Bill; and moved for Leave to bring it up, in which he was seconded by Mr Perry, but opposed by Sir William Yonge; who stood up, and spoke as follows.
The Petition, which the honourable Member over the way has now in Hand, is, I find, a Petition praying for Leave to be heard against a Bill now depending in this House, by which some certain Duties are to be laid on several Commodities mentioned in the Bill. I believe, Sir, it has been the constant Usage of this House for many Years, to receive no Petitions against Duties to be laid on; but as there are none who understand better than you, Sir, the Practice of the House in such Cases, therefore I shall in this submit entirely to your Determination, and hope you will give us your Opinion thereupon. However, Sir, I must take Notice of another Thing, which I observe in the Petition as it has been opened by the honourable Gentleman: They therein tell us, that as to the Bill now depending before us, they apprehend it to be against their Charter. This, I must say, is something very extraordinary; and, in my Opinion, looks very like aiming at an Independency, and disclaiming the Authority and Jurisdiction of this House; as if this House had not a Power to tax them, or to make any Laws for the regulating of the Affairs of their Colony; therefore, Sir, if there were no other Reason for our not receiving their Petition, I should on this single Account be against giving Leave to bring it up.'
'I cannot agree with the honourable Member who spoke last, for I shall never give my Vote for rejecting a Petition before I know what is in it; and this I cannot know till I hear it read. The Question now before us, is not, Whether the Desire of the Petition shall be granted or no? After the Petition is brought up and read to the House, we may then judge whether the Desire thereof be reasonable or not, and may accordingly grant or refuse it, but the refusing to have the Petition brought up and read to the House, seems really to be a Determining the Desire of the Petition to be unreasonable, before we know what it is; and therefore, Sir, I shall be for having it brought up.'
'I stand up to speak to Order and to the Method of Proceeding in this House; it has been a Custom always observed in this House, not to receive any Petitions against those Bills which were brought in for the laying on of any new Duties; I do not indeed say but that there may be some Instances to the contrary, but I am sure they are very rare, and never happened but upon some very extraordinary Occasion; for if we were to receive all such Petitions there would be such Multitudes of them against every such Bill, that the Nation might be undone for want of an immediate Supply for the Publick Use, while we were sitting to hear frivolous Petitions against those Bills brought in for granting that Supply. The honourable Gentleman near me took Notice of the Petitioners pretending, that the Bill now before us is against their Charter; I hope, Sir, they have no Charter which debars this House from taxing them as well as any other Subject of this Nation; I am sure they can have no such Charter; but if it were possible, if they really had such a Charter, they could not say that the Bill now before us were any Infringement of it, because the Tax, to be thereby laid on, is no Tax upon them, but a Tax which is to be laid upon the French only; and shall this House, Sir, receive any Petitions, or hear any Reasons that can be offered, for not taxing the French, more especially when the Tax to be laid upon them will most evidently tend to the Encouragement of our own Sugar-Colonies? I hope, Sir, no such Petition will ever so much as be allowed to be brought up or presented to this House.'
Sir J. Barnard.
'The Petitioners do not pretend to say, that the Bill now depending is against their Charter, nor did I say any such Thing when I opened the Petition to this House; at least if I did, I am sure I did Injustice to the Petition, for the Words of it are, 'That they humbly conceive, that the Bill now depending, if passed into a Law, would be highly prejudicial to their Charter.' But, Sir, I am really surprized at the Method of Reasoning made use of by the two honourable Gentlemen, who have appeared against the bringing up of this Petition: One of the honourable Gentlemen says, that the Petitioners are aiming at an Independency, and are disowning the Authority of this House. This, Sir, in the present Case seems to be a very odd Assertion; is not their applying by Petition to this House, as direct an Acknowledgement of the Authority of this House, as can be made by Men? The other Gentleman says, that the Bill now before us is a Bill for taxing the French only; this seems to be as odd an Assertion as the other; Does the Gentleman imagine that the Tax paid in this Island upon French Wine, is a Tax upon the French? Does not every body know, that the whole of it is paid by the Consumers here? It is so far from being a Tax upon the French, that they have considerably raised the Price of their Wines since the high Duties were laid on them here. As to the Matter of Form, Sir, I do not pretend to be a great Master of it; but since I have had the Honour to sit in Parliament I remember, that several Petitions have been received against Duties to be laid on: However, granting that it were a constant and perpetual Rule not to receive Petitions against such Duties, yet certainly that Rule could relate only to those Duties, which were to be laid on for raising Money for the Current Service of the Publick, it could not be presumed to relate to those Duties, which were to be laid on for the Regulation of Trade only; and this last in the Case now before us. The Duties to be laid on by this Bill are so far from being Duties for the Supply of the Government, that I do not believe that even those Gentlemen, who appear so fond of the Duties to be laid on by it, so much as expect or with that any Money shall be thereby raised for the Use of the Publick; the Bill is not intended for any such End; it is rather in the Nature of a Prohibition, and it was never pretended that no Petitions were ever to be received against a Bill for prohibiting any Sort of Commerce.
'It may be the Case, that this House has sometimes refused to receive Petitions from some Parts of Britain against Duties to be laid on; but this can be no Reason why the Petition, I have now in my Hand, should be rejected: The People in every Part of Great Britain have a Representative in this House, who is to take Care of their Particular Interest, as well as of the General Interest of the Nation; and they may, by means of their Representatives in this House, offer what Reasons they think proper against any Duties to be laid on; but the People, who are the Petitioners in the Petition I have now in my Hand, have no particular Representatives in this House; and therefore they have no other Way of applying or of offering their Reasons to this House, but in the way of being heard at the Bar of the House by their Agent here in England; therefore if that general Rule of not receiving Petitions against Duties to be laid on, be ever to be receded from, the Case now before us ought to be an Exception to the general Rule.'
'I apprehend it has always been the Custom of this House, I am sure it has been the Custom ever since the Revolution, to refuse receiving Petitions against any Duties to be laid on, and that without any Distinction whether the Duties to be laid on were for the Raising of Money, or for the Regulation of Trade: As our Colonies are all a Part of the People of Great Britain, they are generally represented in this House as well as the rest of the People are; and in all the Resolutions of this House, a due Regard will certainly be had to the particular Interest of every one of them, so far as it is consistent with the general Interest of the Whole, for which Reason I can see no Occasion for making an Exception as to them; and therefore I cannot but be of the same Opinion with those Gentlemen, who are for refusing their Consent to the bringing up of this Bill. As for the Duties on Wine, mentioned by the honourable Gentleman who spoke last, though they are paid by the Consumers here, yet they may be looked on as a Tax upon the French, for if it were not for those Duties, a much greater Quantity of their Wines would be consumed here than there is at present, and consequently they would thereby draw a much larger Sum of Money out of this Nation than they now do; and as to the Advance of the original Price of their Wines, there are a great many other Causes it may be owing to, but it never can be owing to the Diminution of the Quantity consumed.'
'I do not pretend to be a Master of Form, but I believe there may be many Precedents found, for justifying the House in receiving the Petition now offered to us. I very well know, Sir, how great a Master you are of the Forms and Methods of Proceeding in this House, and therefore I shall always be as ready as any Gentleman in the House, to submit to your Opinion when any such Question arises; but I cannot think, Sir, that any of your Friends would desire you to give your Opinion thus upon a Surprize, in a Matter which seems to be so much contested; nor do I believe that you would be ready to comply with any such unreasonable Desire; if you should once give your Opinion in any such Dispute, I should be afraid afterwards to inspect the Journals of the House, lest they should be found to contradict the Opinion you had given: But if we are to search for Precedents, I am sure that as to the present Case, there will be no Occasion for going any farther back than the Revolution. Before that Time I believe we can find few or no Precedents any way relating to the Question now in Hand, because Parliaments were not then so frequent, and Taxes very rare. Let any Gentleman but look into the Statute-Books lying upon our Table, he will there see to what a vast Bulk, to what a Number of Volumes, our Statutes relating to Taxes have swelled since the Revolution; and how thin, how few the Volumes are, that contain all the Statutes relating to Taxes that ever were made before that Time: It is monstrous, it is even frightful to look into the Indexes, where for several Columns together we see nothing but Taxes, Taxes, Taxes ! It is true, Sir, when Gentlemen reflect on the many Blessings we thereby enjoy, when they consider the many Advantages we reaped by the Revolution, they will think that we could not pay too dear for so happy a Turn in our Affairs.
'As to the Question now before us, I cannot see why it should be so much debated, I cannot see why the Receiving of this Petition should be so much opposed, unless it be that the Rejecting of this Petition, is to be made use of as a Precedent for receiving no Petitions against a certain Scheme, which we expect soon to be laid before us: This, I am afraid, is really the Case; for then Gentlemen, who are not much Masters of Form, Gentlemen who are but little conversant in the Journals of the House, may quote a Precedent of but a few Days standing, for not receiving any Petitions that may be offered against that Scheme; I do not indeed know whether there will be any such Petitions, but if I may judge by the Spirit which has already appeared in the Nation, I can make no Doubt but that Petitions will be sent up from all Parts of the Country against that Scheme.'
Sir Thomas Aston.
'As to the Point of Form which is now the Subject of Debate, I cannot venture to give my Opinion thereon, but I am surprized that the honourable Gentleman should have any Apprehensions of our refusing to receive any Petitions, that may be offered against the Scheme he hinted at: For whatever Objection there may be against the House receiving any Petitions, that are offered against Duties to be laid on, there cannot surely be any Objection against our receiving Petitions, that may be offered against a new and a dangerous Method of collecting Duties already laid on.'
Mr Sandys moves for appointing a Committee to search Precedents relating to Petitions against Bills for imposing Duties;
'Since Gentlemen seem so much to differ as to the Point of Form, I shall move, That a Committee may be appointed to search Precedents, in relation to the receiving or not receiving Petitions against the imposing of Duties; for as some Gentlemen have affirmed it to have been the constant Usage of this House ever since the Revolution, to reject all such Petitions, I must take the Liberty to affirm the Fact to have been otherwise; and it is so far otherwise, that if my Motion be agreed to, I believe more Precedents will be found for receiving, than for rejecting of such Petitions.'
Which is seconded by Mr Heathcote. ; Hereupon Sir J. Barnard desires to withdraw his former Motion, which passes in the Negative; as does also Mr Sandys's Motion.
This Motion was seconded by Mr Heathcote, and thereupon Sir John Barnard desired to withdraw the Motion he had made: But that being opposed, and some Debate arising as to that Point, Mr Speaker acquainted the House of its being their constant Rule, that when any Motion is once made and seconded, the Question, if insisted on, must be put upon that Motion; it could not be withdrawn without the Leave of the House: Hereupon the previous Question was moved for, and carried in the Affirmative by 140 to 112. Then the Question was put for bringing up the Petition, which passed in the Negative: After this the Question being also put for searching of Precedents, it passed in the Negative.
Mr H. Walpole moves for laying a Duty of 5s. per Gallon on all Foreign Brandies, for encouraging the Manufacture and Export of Home-made Spirits.
March 9. The House went into a Committee, to consider of the most proper Methods for encouraging the Manufacture and Export of Home-made Spirits; and Mr Horatio Walpole open'd the Debate with the following Speech:
'As we are now in a Committee for encouraging Homemade Spirits, it may not be improper for us to take into our Consideration the Duties payable on French Brandies and other Foreign Spirits: As the Laws now stand, the Duties payable upon French Brandies amount in the whole to about 6s. and 5d. per Gallon, which has always been looked on rather as a Prohibition, than as a Duty to be fairly and honestly paid either by the Importer or Consumer; and indeed it has in Fact been always found to be so, for few or none have ever paid that Duty; those Brandies have always been smuggled and stole in upon us, notwithstanding all the Methods we could ever take to prevent it; or they have made use of an Artifice to evade the Laws, which is this: As the Laws stand at present, the Duties payable upon Flemish Brandies amount in the whole but to 4s. per Gallon, and as it is not possible to distinguish Flemish Brandies from French Brandies, therefore great Quantities of French Brandies were carried first to Rotterdam, and from thence imported upon us as Flemish Brandies; after that they were carried to Ostend, and from thence imported as Flemish; and now for some Years past, they have been carried to Dunkirk, and from thence brought to the several Ports of Britain, and entered as Flemish Brandies.
'As this Practice is, Sir, an Evasion of the Laws in Being, it ought certainly to be remedied, and the Manner how, will be the proper Question now to be considered; If the Duties now payable upon French Brandies should be laid on all Foreign Spirits, it would not only encourage the Smuggling and Running Trade, but it would be a Prejudice to our own Distilling-Trade, for our Distillers are under a Necessity of mixing up a certain Proportion of French Brandy with our English Spirits, in order to make them fit for Use either at Home or Abroad; and therefore if such a Duty can be thought of to be laid upon all Foreign Spirits, as will prevent their being sold in this Country so cheap, as to interfere with the Consumption of our Home-made Spirits, and yet not disable us from importing honestly and fairly as much as our Distillers may have Occasion for in the Manufacture of our Home-made Spirits, I hope Gentlemen will readily come in to such a Proposition.
'In order, Sir, to make such a Proposition to this House, I have for some time considered the Case, I have talked with some of the most noted Distillers in Town about it, and I have made all the Inquiries I thought proper, for obtaining a full Information as to this Particular; and from the whole, I believe that a Duty of 5s. per Gallon upon all Foreign Brandies, is the most proper Medium to be fixed on.'
This Motion met with very little Opposition, only some Members declar'd, 'That they thought a Duty of 5s. 6d. would be more effectual for the Purpose intended:' Then Mr Sandys stood up, and spoke as follows:
'I am glad to hear from the honourable Gentleman over the way, that all Mixtures are not to be looked on as publick Frauds, for it seems the mixing of French Brandy with English Spirits is not only no publick Fraud, but a Mixture which ought to be encouraged, as being useful and necessary in the Distilling-Trade; yet with respect to the Publick, I cannot conceive how the mixing of English Cyder with Portugal Wine, can be considered as a greater Fraud than the mixing of French Brandy with English Spirits.
'I must likewise take Notice, that the same Gentleman seems to admit, that the Laws of the Customs and Excise, when united and joined together, are found to be ineffectual for collecting the Duties payable upon the Commodities he mentioned, or for the preventing the Smuggling and Running of them into this Kingdom; and therefore I hope, Sir, I shall not hereafter hear any Proposition, either from that Gentleman or any of his Friends, for laying any other Duties under the same Circumstances, more especially since the Uniting the Laws of the Customs and Excise is well known to be, in all Cases, an Union, which is most grievous and most burthensome to the Subject.'
Sir W. Wyndham's Observations on Dunkirk's being mention'd as a Port.
In the Course of this Debate, Dunkirk having been mention'd as a Port, Sir William Wyndham said, 'That he was surpriz'd to hear it so much as mentioned as a Port: That it was against the Honour of the English Nation to acknowledge it as such, or to admit that it should ever be made Use of as such: That it was not now the proper Subject of their Consideration, but he hop'd that the House would at some other time take an Opportunity to resolve itself into a Committee to consider of an Affair of so great Importance.' To this Sir Robert Walpole replied, 'That he hop'd Gentlemen would not be diverted from what was then the proper Subject of their Consideration: That Dunkirk's being mentioned as a Port, must necessarily raise the just Indignation of every Englishman: That no Englishman ever did, or ever could admit it as a Port: But that whatever Terms Gentlemen might inadvertently make use of, yet he hop'd no Pretence would ever be from thence taken to infringe those Rights, which this Nation is by a most solemn Treaty justly intitled to.'
Mr H. Walpole's Motion agreed to; And a Bill order'd, to encourage the Trade of Homemade Spirits;
Then the Committee resolv'd, That the Act passed in the second Year of King George II. intitled, An Act, For laying a Duty upon Compound Waters or Spirits, and for licensing the Retailers thereof, had been a Discouragement to the Distilling of Spirits from Corn in Great Britain, and therefore ought to be repealed: That for the Encouragement of the Exportation of Spirits drawn from Corn in Great Britain, a Drawback, or Allowance of 61. 8s. per Ton, ought to to be paid and allowed on the Exportation thereof: And that the Duties payable upon Brandy and Spirits imported, except from his Majesty's Plantations in America, should from the 24th of June next, cease and determine, and that in Lieu thereof there should be granted to his Majesty a Duty of five Shillings per Gallon, on all Brandy and Spirits imported from Foreign Parts, except such as shall be of the Growth and Manufacture of his Majesty's Plantations in America.
Which passes into a Law.
The Commons, in a Grand Committee, consider of proper Methods for securing and improving the Duties on Wine and Tobacco.
March 14. The House resolv'd itself into a Committee of the whole House, to consider of the most proper Methods for the better Security and Improvement of the Duties and Revenues, already charged upon, and payable from, Tobacco and Wines: The many Accounts, Returns, and other Papers, which the House had before called for, being first referred to the said Committee; and the Commissioners of the Customs and of the Excise attending, pursuant to an Order of the preceding Day; Sir Robert Walpole open'd the Debate with the following Speech:
Sir Robert Walpole proposes the Excise Scheme for that Purpose, which occasions a great Debate.
'As I had the Honour to move for the House to resolve itself into this Committee, I think it incumbent upon me to open to you what was then intended to be proposed, as the Subject of your Consideration. We are now in a Committee for considering of the most proper Methods, for the better Security and Improvement of the Duties and Revenues already charged upon, and payable from Tobacco and Wines: This can be done in no Way so proper or effectual, as that of preventing for the future those Frauds, by which the publick Revenues have been so much injured in Times past. I know, that whoever attempts to remedy Frauds, attempts a Thing that must be very disagreeable to all those, who have been guilty of them, or who expect a Benefit by such in Time to come. This, Sir, I am fully sensible of, and from this have sprung all those Clamours, which have been raised without Doors, against what I am now to propose to you. The Smugglers, the fraudulent Dealers, and those who have for many Years been enriching themselves by cheating their Country, foresaw, that if the Scheme I am now to propose took Effect, their profitable Trade would be at an End; this gave them the Alarm, and from them I am persuaded it is, that all those Clamours have originally proceeded.
'In this 'tis certain, that they have been most strenuously assisted and supported by another Set of People, who, from Motives much worse, and of much more dangerous Consequence to their Country, are fond of improving every Opportunity that offers, for stirring up the People of Great Britain to Mutiny and Sedition. But, Sir, notwithstanding all the Clamours that such wicked and deceitful Men have been able to raise, as the Scheme I have to propose will be a great Improvement to the publick Revenue, an Improvement of 2 or 300,000 l. per Annum and perhaps more, and as it will likewise be of great Advantage to the fair Trader, I thought it my Duty, not only as being in the Station I am in, but also as being a Member of this House, to lay it before you; for no such Clamours shall ever deter me from doing what I think is my Duty, or from proposing any Thing that I am convinced will be of such signal Benefit to the Revenue, and to the Trade of my Country.
'It has been most industriously spread abroad, that the Scheme I am now to propose, was a Scheme for a General Excise; but I do aver that no such Scheme ever enter'd into my Head, nor, for what I know, into the Head of any Man I am acquainted with: My Thoughts were always confined solely to those two Branches of the Revenue, arising from the Duties on Wine and Tobacco; and it was the frequent and repeated Advices I had of the notorious Frauds committed in those two Branches of the Revenue, and the Clamours even of some of the Merchants themselves, that made me turn my Thoughts particularly towards considering those two Branches, in order to find out, if possible, some Remedy for the growing Evil; what I am now going to propose will, I believe, if agreed to, be an effectual Remedy; but if I now fail in what I am to propose, it will be the last Attempt of this Kind that I shall ever make; I believe it will be the last that will ever be made, either by me, or by any that shall succeed me in the Station I am now in.
'At present, I shall lay before you only the Case as it now stands with respect to the Tobacco-Trade, and the Revenue arising therefrom; and here it will be necessary first to consider the Condition of our Planters of Tobacco in America; if we can believe them, if we can give any Credit to what they themselves say, we must conclude that they are reduced almost to the last Extremity; they are reduced even almost to a State of Despair, by the many Frauds that have been committed in that Trade, by the heavy Duties which the Importers of Tobacco are obliged to pay upon Importation, and by the ill Usage they have met with from their Factors and Correspondents here in England, who, from being their Servants, are now become their Lords and Masters. These poor People have sent home many Representations of the bad State of their Affairs; and have lately sent over a Gentleman with a Remonstrance, setting forth their Grievances, and praying for some speedy Relief: This they may obtain by Means of the Scheme I intend now to propose, and I believe it is from this Scheme only that they can expect any Relief.
'The next Thing we are to consider, is the State of the Tobacco-Trade, with regard to the fair Trader; the Man who deals honourably and fairly with the Publick, as well as with private Men; the Man who honestly pays all those Duties which the Publick is justly intitled to, finds himself prevented and forestalled, almost in every Market within the Island, by the Smuggler and the fraudulent Dealer; And even as to our foreign Trade in Tobacco, those who have no Regard to Honour, to Religion, or to the Welfare of their Country, but are every Day contriving Ways and Means for cheating the Publick by Perjuries and false Entries, are the greatest Gainers; and it will always be so, unless we can fall upon some Way of putting it out of their Power to carry on any such Frauds for the future.
'And lastly, we ought to consider the great Loss sustained by the Publick, by Means of the Frauds committed in the Tobacco-Trade, and the Addition that must certainly be made to the publick Revenue, if those Frauds can be prevented in Time to come: By this Addition we may be enabled to relieve the Nation from some of those Taxes, which it has laboured under so many Years; whereas, as the Case now stands, the innocent and the honest Part of the Nation are charged with Taxes, which they would be free from, if the fraudulent Dealers and the Smugglers could be any Way obliged to pay that, which is justly due by them to the Publick. This will, I am convinced, be the Effect of the Scheme I am to propose to you, and whoever therefore views it in its proper Light, must see the Planters, the fair Traders, and the Publick, ranged on one Side in Favour of it; and none but the unfair Traders and the Tobacco-Factors on the other.
'I shall beg Leave to mention to you some of those Frauds which have come to my Knowledge. The Evidence I have had of them is to me very convincing: But in such Cases Gentlemen ought always to consider what Evidence it is impossible to bring, what Evidence it is by the Nature of the Thing unreasonable to expect.'
Then Sir Robert Walpole gave an Account of the several Frauds which had been practised of late Years in the Tobacco-Trade, from which he made Calculations of the Loss the Publick thereby sustained, particularly that of getting the Tobacco weighed at an Under-Weight upon Importation, and getting it weighed again upon Exportation at a Weight much above what it ought to be. Then he proceeded thus:
'Sir, A particular Instance of this Fraud I came lately to the Knowledge of by meer Accident: One Midford, who had been a considerable Tobacco-Merchant in the City, happened to fail, at a Time when he ow'd a large Sum of Money upon Bond to the Crown; whereupon an Extent was issued out immediately against him, and thereby the Government got Possession of all his Books, by which the Fraud he had been guilty of was discovered; for it appeared as may be seen by one of his Books I have in my Hand, [Here he shewed one of Midford's Books to the Committee] that upon the Column where the false Quantities, which had been enter'd at the Importation, by Collusion between him and the Officer, by which he paid or bonded the Duty payable upon Importation, a Slip of Paper had been so artfully pasted on that it could not be discover'd, and upon this Slip of Paper were written the real Quantities which were enter'd, because he was obliged to produce the same Book when that Tobacco was enter'd for Exportation; but then upon Exportation, the Tobacco was enter'd and weigh'd according to the Quantities mark'd upon this Slip of Paper so artfully pasted on as I have mention'd, by which he got a Drawback, or his Bonds returned, to near double the Value of what he had actually paid Duty for upon Importation. Yet this Midford was as honest a Man and as fair a Trader as any in the City of London; I desire not to be misunderstood, I mean that before he fail'd, before these Frauds came to be discover'd, he was always reckon'd as honest a Man, and as fair a Trader as any in the City of London, or in any other Part of the Nation.'
After this, he mention'd the several Frauds following, viz. That of Re-landing the Tobacco after it was shipp'd off for Exportation: That of Socking of Tobacco, which was a Cant-Word used for stealing and smuggling it out of the Ships after their Arrival in the River, before they were unloaded at the Custom-house: That of stripping the Stalks, and afterwards splitting and pressing them by an Engine contrived for that Purpose, and then exporting them: That of giving Bonds for the Duty payable upon Importation, whereby the Government had lost several large Sums by the Failure of Payment of such Bonds: That of the rich money'd Men making prompt Payments, by which the Publick was obliged to allow them Ten per Cent. Discount as to the Duties, and by entering the Tobacco soon after for Exportation, they drew back the whole Duties; so that the Government actually lost Ten per Cent. upon all the Tobacco that had been so enter'd. Then he went on as follows:
'Sir, These Frauds are notorious, most of them are known to the whole World; and as the Laws of the Customs have been found ineffectual for the preventing of such Frauds, therefore it is proposed to add the Laws of Excise to the Laws of the Customs, and by Means of both it is probable, I may say certain, that all such Frauds will be prevented in Time to come.
'By the several Subsidies and Imposts now payable upon Tobacco, by several Acts of Parliament made for that Purpose [Here he gave an Account of the several Acts of Parliament for laying Duties on Tobacco] it appears, that the Duties now payable upon Tobacco on Importation amount to 6 ⅓ d. per Pound Weight, all which must be paid down in ready Money, by the Merchant, upon Importation thereof, with the Allowance of Ten per Cent. upon prompt Payment; or otherwise there must be Bonds given with sufficient Sureties for Payment of the Money, which is often a great Loss to the Publick, and is always a great Inconvenience to the Merchant. Importer; whereas, by what I am to propose, the whole Duties to be paid for the future will amount to no more than 4 ¾ d. per Pound Weight, and this Duty not to be paid 'till the Tobacco comes to be sold for Home-Consumption; so that if the Merchant exports his Tobacco, he will be quite free from all Payment of Duty, or giving Bond therefore, or finding out proper Sureties for joining in such Bond; he will have nothing to do but to re-load his Tobacco on board a Ship for Exportation, without being at the Trouble to attend for having his Bonds cancell'd, or for taking out Debentures for the Drawbacks; all which, I conceive, must be a great Ease to the fair Trader; and to every such Trader the preventing of Frauds must be a great Advantage, because it will put all the Tobacco-Traders in Britain upon the same Footing, which is but just and equal, and what ought certainly to be accomplished, if it be possible.
'Now, in order to make this Ease effectual to the fair Trader, and to contribute to his Advantage by preventing as much as possible any Frauds in Time to come, I propose, as I have said, to join the Laws of Excise to those of the Customs, and to leave the one Penny, or rather three Farthings per Pound, call'd the farther Subsidy, to be still charged at the Custom-House upon the Importation of any Tobacco, which three Farthings shall be payable to his Majesty's Civil List as heretofore: And I propose that all Tobacco for the future, after being weighed at the Custom-House, and charged with the said three Farthings per Pound, shall be lodg'd in a Warehouse or Warehouses, to be appointed by the Commissioners of the Excise for that Purpose, of which Warehouse the Merchant Importer shall have one Lock and Key, and the Warehouse-keeper to be appointed by the said Commissioners shall have another; in order that the Tobacco may lie safe in that Warehouse till the Merchant finds a Market for it, either for Exportation or for Home-Consumption: Thus if his Market be for Exportation, he may apply to his Warehouse-keeper, and take out as much for that Purpose as he has Occasion for, which, when weighed at the Custom-House, shall be discharg'd of the three Farthings per Pound with which it was charged upon Importation, so that the Merchant may then export it without any farther Trouble: But if his Market be for HomeConsumption, that he shall then pay the three Farthings charged upon it at the Custom-House upon Importation, and that then upon calling his Warehouse-keeper, he may deliver it to the Buyer, on paying an Inland-Duty of 4 d. per Pound Weight, to the proper Officer appointed to receive the same.
'And whereas all the Penalties and Forfeitures to become due, by the Laws now in Being, for regulating the collecting of the Duties on Tobacco, or at least all that Part of them which is not given to the Informers, now belong to the Crown; I propose that all such Penalties and Forfeitures, so far as they formerly belonged to the Crown, shall for the future belong to the Publick, and be applicable to the same Uses to which the said Duties shall be made applicable by Parliament; and for that Purpose I have his Majesty's Commands to acquaint this House that he, out of his great Regard for the publick Good, with Pleasure consents that they shall be so apply'd, which is a Condescension in his Majesty, that I hope every Gentleman in this House is fully sensible of, and will freely acknowledge.
'I know there has been an Objection made, I expect to hear it again made in this House, against what I now propose: The Objection is this, ' That a great many of his Majesty's Subjects will be liable to be tried in a Multitude of Cases by the Commissioners of Excise, from whom there is no Appeal, but to Commissioners of Appeal, or to Justices of Peace in the Country, all named by the King and removeable at Pleasure, from whom the Appellants cannot expect to meet with Justice or Redress.' I am far from thinking there is any Ground for this Complaint, I am far from thinking that any Man ever had a just Reason to say that he was wronged, or unjustly dealt with, either by the Commissioners of Appeal, or by the Justices of the Peace at their Quarter-Sessions; but in order to obviate any Objection of this Nature, I propose that all Appeals in this Case, as well as in all other Cases relating to the Excise, shall for the future be heard and determin'd by two or three of the Judges to be named by his Majesty, out of the twelve Judges belonging to Westminster-Hall; and that in the Country, all Appeals, from the first Sentence of his Majesty's Justices of the Peace, shall be to the Judge of Assize upon the next Circuit which shall come into that Country, who shall in all Cases proceed to hear and determine such Appeals in the most summary Way, without the Formality of Proceedings in Courts of Law or Equity. From such Judges, and from such a Manner of Proceeding, every Man must expect to meet with the utmost Dispatch, and with the most impartial Justice; and therefore I must think, that what I now propose can be no Inconvenience to those, who may thereby be subjected to the Laws of Excise; but that if there was formerly any Ground of Complaint, it may be a great Relief to those who are already subjected to such Laws.
'This is the Scheme which has been represented in such a dreadful and terrible Light: This is the Monster, that many-headed Monster, which was to devour the People, and to commit such Ravages over the whole Nation. How justly it has been represented in such a Light, I shall leave to this Committee, and to the whole World without Doors to judge. I have said, I will say it again, that whatever Apprehensions and Terrors People may have been brought under, from a false and malicious Representation of what they neither did nor could possibly know or understand, I am firmly persuaded, when they do come to know and fully to understand the Scheme which I have now had the Honour to open to you, they will view it in another Light; and that if it has the good Fortune to be approved of by Parliament, and comes to take Effect, the People will soon feel the happy Consequences thereof; and when they feel those good Effects, they will no longer think those People their Friends, who have so grosly imposed on their Understandings.
'I look upon it as a most innocent Scheme; I am convinced it can be hurtful to none but Smugglers and unfair Traders; I am certain it will be of great Benefit and Advantage to the publick Revenue; and if I had thought otherwise of it, I never would have ventured to have proposed it in this Place; therefore I shall now beg Leave to move that it may be resolved, That it is the Opinion of this Committee, that the Subsidy and additional Duty upon Tobacco of the British Plantations, granted by an Act of the 12th of King Charles II. and the Impost thereon, granted by an Act of the first of King James II. and also the one third Subsidy thereon, granted by an Act of the 2d of Queen Anne, amounting in the whole to 5 ¼d. per Pound, for several Terms of Years in the said respective Acts mention'd, and which have since been continued and made perpetual, subject to Redemption by Parliament, shall from and after the 24th Day of June 1733, cease and determine.'
'The honourable Gentleman on the Floor has taken up a great deal of the Time of the Committee, in stating a great Number and Variety of Facts, and in drawing Conclusions and making Calculations, upon the Supposition that every one of those Facts was exactly as he has been pleased to represent them to us. This I cannot entirely agree with the Gentleman in, for if all those Facts were exactly as he has represented them, and if all the Computations he has made upon that Supposition were just, that Quantity of Tobacco, the Duties of which the Publick is thereby supposed to be entirely defrauded of, would amount to a much greater Quantity of Tobacco yearly, than grows in the whole Country from which we fetch that Commodity. I did not expect to have heard so long a Detail of Facts, or so many particular Computations: I do not think it at all necessary upon the present Occasion; I expected that the Gentleman would have taken a much more general and a more just Method: I thought he would have stated to us the Quantity of Tobacco yearly imported, the Quantity yearly exported, and would have given us the best Proofs that could be found for justifying his Computations in that Respect, because from thence every Man might have easily seen what Quantity remained for Home Consumption, and what Sum of Money this would have yearly brought in, if the Duties had been all regularly paid; and upon comparing that with what those Duties have really amounted to for some Years past, we might have been able to have made some Guess at the Value of the Frauds that have been committed, and at the Advantage that may accrue to the Publick, supposing that all Frauds had been prevented for the Time to come.
'This is the proper Way, the only Way of coming at any Sort of certain Knowledge in the Affair before us, but I am afraid if we should consider it in this Way, we should find that the Scheme now proposed to us would be of no such mighty Advantage to the publick Revenue as has been represented, even supposing that all Frauds were for the future to be thereby entirely prevented: And considering that no Method of Collection, no Pains or Penalties, that can be contrived, can be supposed effectual for preventing every Fraud that may hereafter be invented and set on Foot; we should find no great Temptation for agreeing to any Scheme, by which the Liberties of our Country may be brought into the least Danger, for the sake of any Advantage that we could suppose would thence accrue to the publick Revenue. That there are Frauds committed in the Tobacco-Trade, I shall never pretend to deny, I make no manner of Doubt but that there are too many Frauds committed in that Trade, as well as in every other Branch of the publick Revenue: But upon a fair State of the Case, I am sure they cannot amount to near that Value, which the honourable Gentleman has been pleased to mention; and therefore I beg Leave to examine a little those particular Frauds and Calculations which have been mention'd by him.'
'Sir, It has been pretended, that the Publick has sustained, and are still in Danger of sustaining great Losses by the Method of granting Bonds for the Duties payable upon Tobacco: This I had before heard hinted at by the honourable Gentleman, and therefore I have lately had a Meeting with several of the Merchants in London trading in Tobacco: We have examined that Affair, and I can now tell that Gentleman, that I have it in Commission from them to propose, that if the Government will give us a Discount but of 20,000 l. we will give undeniable Security for the Payment of all the Bonds they are now possessed of, which are not become desperate by the Bondsmen being already gone off, or become Bankrupts.
'As to that Fraud call'd Socking, it has been already discover'd, and is, I hope, prevented. But it is well known, that the Merchants discover'd it first, the Merchants went and complain'd of it to the Commissioners of the Customs, and the Merchants join'd and assisted the Officers of the Customs in putting an effectual Stop thereto. This I must know, because I had the Honour to go at the Head of several Merchants trading in Tobacco, to the Commissioners of the Customs, to request of them that we might be allow'd to give a Gratuity to one of their Officers, who had been most instrumental in the detecting and preventing of that Fraud, and accordingly I myself paid that Officer a very handsome Sum of Money, which we all thought his Diligence and Integrity very well deserv'd.
'As to the Frauds committed at the Weighing of the Tobacco either on Importation or Exportation, I am afraid they are too frequent: But as the Tobacco is always weighed upon the publick Custom-House Keys, where Custom-House Officers swarm like Bees before a Hive; and as there must be two or three Officers of the Customs attending and overlooking the Weighing of every Cask of Tobacco, we cannot suppose that these Frauds were ever so enormous as they are represented to be: Whatever Frauds are committed in that Way, must be either by Neglect or Collusion of the Officers, and I cannot see how the Scheme now proposed to us will make the Officers, either of the Customs or the Excise, more diligent in their Duty, or more faithful in their Trust, than they were heretofore. As to the Re-landing of Tobacco after it has been enter'd for Exportation, it was never pretended that this was practised at the Port of London, nor can it be pretended that any great Quantities of such Tobacco were ever consum'd in London: This is a Practice that may perhaps have been frequent in the Northern Parts of the Island, and in some distant Creeks and Corners of the Coast; and while there is such a vast Disproportion between the prime Cost and the Duties on Tobacco, I may prophecy, that in such remote Places this will always be a Practice: It could not be prevented by ten Times the Number of Officers we have, even tho' we had a much more numerous Army to support them than we have at present: And as for the stripping, cutting, and pressing the Stalks, and the Engine that has been invented for that Purpose, if the honourable Gentleman mention'd it as a Fraud, or as a late Discovery, he mistakes it very much; on the contrary, it is no Fraud, nor is it a late Discovery; it is a Business that has been openly, honestly, and publickly carry'd on for many Years; it is a Business that has improv'd our Tobacco-Trade, and is as common and as well known as the Business of a Woollen or a Linnen-Draper.
'Permit me now to take some Notice of the TobaccoPlanters, and of the Hardships they are laid under by their Tobacco-Factors, who are, it seems, now become their Lords and Masters. I am sure none of them ever thought of complaining, till they were put upon it by Letters and Applications from hence. There are Hardships in all Trades, which Men must necessarily submit to, or give up their Business; but every Man, that understands the Tobacco-Trade, must see that the Hardships the Factors labour under, are by much the most numerous and the most grievous; and if this Scheme should take Effect, they will become so grievous, that no Man would be able to continue in the Trade; by this the Planters would be utterly undone, and the Trade quite lost to this Nation; for it will be impossible for them to manage their Plantations, or to send their Produce to Britain, without having some considerable Merchants settled here, to send Ships to receive the same in America, to receive and dispose of it after it is landed here, and to supply them with ready Money 'till their Tobacco can be brought to a proper Market. As to the Remonstrance, mention'd by the honourable Gentleman to have been lately sent over by the Tobacco-Planters, I know it was obtain'd by Letters sent from hence, and I believe many of those who join'd in it, now heartily repent of what they have done; it was drawn up in Form of a Petition to this House, and was designed to have been presented, but it seems the Promoters of it have thought better of the Matter: However, that it was obtain'd in the unfair Manner I have represented, I am now ready to prove to the Conviction of the whole World.
'This then being the Case, as the Scheme now proposed to us cannot be supposed to be of any great Benefit to the publick Revenue, as it will be so far from being an Advantage to the fair Trader, or to the honest Planter, that it may probably ruin both, and entirely destroy our Tobacco-Trade; tho I, and all honest Men, and I defy that honourable Gentleman, I defy the whole World to reproach me with one unfair Practice in the whole Course of my Life, I say, tho' I and all honest Men wish from our Hearts that Frauds may be prevented in this, as well as in every other Branch of the publick Revenue, yet I cannot give my Assent to a Proposition that may be of so dangerous Consequence; a Proposition which I look upon to be inconsistent with our Constitution; I am convinced it would prove a most fatal Stroke to the Liberties of my Country, which will, I doubt not, be made plainly appear by other Gentlemen of much greater Abilities than mine: And to every Man who has a Regard for his Country, or for the People he represents, this last must be a sufficient Reason for being against, even tho' it were otherwise the most beneficial Scheme that had ever been proposed.
'But since I look upon my being a Member of this House, as the greatest Glory of my Life, since I look upon that Day on which I was chose one of the Representatives of the City of London, as the most auspicious Day of my whole Life, I cannot tamely fit still and hear the whole Body of the Merchants of that great City represented by that honourable Gentleman as a Pack of Rogues, Smugglers, and unfair Traders. It is a Treatment they no way deserve, it is a very odd, a very unkind Sort of Treatment, and such a Treatment as I am sure they never will forget, and I believe never will forgive.'
Sir P. Methuen.
'When I first heard of this Scheme, I was in the Country, and there I must say that it had been represented in such a Light, as created a general Dislike to it, and raised great Apprehensions in the Minds of most People. It was represented as a Scheme for introducing a General Excise; such a Scheme I own I would not allow myself to think was contrived or approved of by any Gentleman in the Administration; I did imagine, that all those in the Administration were very well convinced, that a General Excise was what the People of England would never quietly submit to, and therefore did not believe that any of them would ever countenance a Scheme which had the least Tendency that Way. But now, after having heard it open'd, and fully explain'd, by the honourable Gentleman on the Floor, I cannot but think that it is a wide Step towards establishing a General Excise, and therefore I must be excused assenting to it.
'How far it relates to Trade, with which it certainly has a very close Connection, I shall leave to be explain'd by others more conversant in those Affairs; nor will I take upon me to say how far it may be a Remedy for the Frauds mention'd by the honourable Gentleman; but there is another Concern which I shall always, while I have the Honour to sit in this House, have a particular Eye to, and that is, the Liberty of my Country. The Danger with which this Scheme seems to threaten the Liberty of many of my Fellow-Subjects, is alone of sufficient Force to make me give my Negative to the Question. Let Gentlemen but reflect, let them but cast their Eyes back on the several Laws that have been made since the Revolution, they will there find, that there has been already more Power vested in the Crown, than may be thought altogether consistent with the Constitution of a free Country; and therefore, I hope this House will never think of adding to that Power, which there may be some Ground to suspect is already too far extended.
'The Laws of Excise have always been look'd upon as most grievous to the Subject: All those already subjected to such Laws, are, in my Opinion, so far depriv'd of their Liberty; and since by this Scheme, a great many more of his Majesty's faithful Subjects are to be subjected to those arbitrary Laws, let the Advantages accruing to the Publick from it be never so great or so many, they will be purchased at too dear a Rate, if they are purchased at the Expence of the Liberty of the meanest of his Majesty's Subjects; for even the meanest Man in the Nation has as natural and as good a Right to his Liberty, as the greatest Man in this or in any other Kingdom.
'Let us but take a View of the neighbouring Nations in Europe, they were all once free; the People of every one of them had once as many Liberties and Privileges to boast of as we have now; but at present they are most of them reduced to a State of Slavery, they have no Liberty, no Property or Law, nor any Thing they can depend on Let us examine their Histories, let us inquire into the Methods by which they are deprived of their Liberties, and we shall find a very near Resemblance between those Methods and the Scheme now proposed to us. Almost in every Country in the World, the Liberties of the People have been destroy'd, under Pretence of preserving or of rescuing the People from some great Evil, to which it was pretended they were exposed: This is the very Case now before us, in order to enable the Crown to prevent some little Frauds, pretended to have been committed in the ancient Method of collecting the publick Revenue, it is proposed to us to put such a Power in the Hands of the Crown, as may enable some future Prince to enslave the whole Nation. This is really the Light in which this Scheme appears to me; but to the honourable Gentleman who proposed it to us, I am persuaded it appears in a quite different Light, otherwise I am certain he would never have proposed it to this Committee. However, since the Generality of the Nation have already shewn a great Dislike to it; I therefore hope the honourable Gentleman may be prevailed on to delay it 'till another Session of Parliament; in such a Delay there can be no Danger, there can be no great Loss to the Publick; more especially since the Money, to be thereby raised, is not so much as proposed to be applied to the current Service of the present Year: If it be delay'd till another Session of Parliament, Gentlemen will then have Time to consider it fully, and to consult with their Constituents about it; by that Time it may possibly appear in a quite different Light both to me and to many other Gentlemen, without Doors as well as within; and then, if upon Examination it appears to be as good a Thing as some Gentlemen now seem to believe, it will, without Doubt, be approved of by the Generality of those without, as well as by the Majority of those within.
'But I hope those Gentlemen, who have now so good an Opinion of the Scheme, will not think of thrusting it down People's Throats, when they see that the Generality of the Nation have an Opinion of it quite different from what they have; such a Resolution, such an Attempt might produce Consequences which I tremble to think of: and this is another Motive which is of great Weight with me; I have the Honour to know his Majesty, his Royal Person I have formerly had the Honour to approach, and I know him to be a Prince of so much Goodness, that were this Scheme represented in this Light to him, he never would approve of it; to him it will always be a sufficient Reason against any Proposition, that the Generality of his People have shewn their Dislike to it: I love his Majesty, I have a sincere and a dutiful Respect for him and all his Royal Family; and therefore I shall always be afraid of any Thing that may alienate the Affections of many of his Majesty's faithful Subjects, which I believe would be the certain Consequence of the present Establishment of this Scheme; for which Reasons, if the Question be now pushed, I shall most heartily give my Negative to it.'
Sir P. Yorke.
Then Sir Philip Yorke (fn. 1) spoke as follows:
'After the honourable Gentleman near me had open'd to the Committee, in a Manner so full and so clear, a Scheme which had met with so unfair and so ungenerous a Treatment, before those who treated it so could know any Thing about it, I little expected that the honourable Gentleman who spoke last, or any Gentleman in this Committee, could be so far deceiv'd, as to have taken it in the Light they do. In my Opinion, the Debate is now put upon a Footing very different from what it ought to be: What can the Affair now before us have to do with our Constitution? There is nothing, there can be nothing supposed to be in the Proposition made by my honourable Friend, that can in the least tend towards incroaching on our Constitution, or towards affecting the Liberty of the Subject. The only Consideration at present before us is, Whether we shall allow those gross Frauds and Abuses, formerly committed in the Tobacco-Trade, to be still carry'd on with Impunity, or accept of a Remedy which, by effectually preventing these Frauds for the future, will considerably improve the publick Revenue, will be of great Advantage to the fair Trader, and of singular Use and Benefit to the whole Nation?
'This is the plain Question now before us, and if it be consider'd in its proper Light, without confounding it with other Matters with which it has no Manner of Relation, I am sure it cannot admit of any Debate. The honourable Gentleman, in opening this Affair to us, made it so manifest that there have been great Frauds committed in that Branch of Trade; and that the preventing of those Frauds would be a great Improvement to the publick Revenue, that what he advanced on that Head has not been opposed or contradicted: And this House has been upon all Occasions so very careful of the publick Revenues, and has been always so ready to agree to any Measures for preventing Abuses in the collecting of them, that I cannot help thinking that the Dislike, which appears against the Remedy now proposed, must proceed from some other Motives than Gentlemen are willing to own.
'It is certain, that by the Frauds and Abuses that are committed in this Branch of the Revenue, not only the Publick is cheated of what is due to them, but likewise every private Consumer is most grosly imposed on, for he pays the same Price as if the Duties had actually been paid to the Publick: He pays a high Price for what he consumes, but then he has this for his Comfort, that he thinks a great Part of that high Price goes towards the publick Good of his Country; but in all fraudulent Trade he is imposed on, the high Price he pays, goes every Farthing of it into the Pocket of the fraudulent Dealer. This then being plainly the Case, I should think that the Gentlemen, who oppose this Scheme, ought to endeavour to shews us, that no such Frauds, as are pretended, have been committed; or that they are so inconsiderable that they are not worth minding; or that what is proposed would be no Sort of Remedy for them: But upon the present Question, to talk of our Constitution seems really to me to be a Sort of Insinuation, as if Frauds in the collecting of the publick Revenue were become a Part of our Constitution; and that whoever attempts to remedy them, must attempt something against our Constitution: And as to the Liberty of the Subject, it is not possible for me to find out any Liberty that can be struck at by the Scheme now before us, but the Liberty of Smuggling; for as to National Liberty, as to that Liberty which has always been, and I hope always will be the Glory of the People of these Kingdoms, it is certain that our publick Revenues are its greatest Security: How then can that Scheme be said to tend towards the destroying of Liberty, which so evidently tends towards the Improvement of that upon which our Liberty manifestly depends ?
'As to the raising Clamours and Disaffection among his Majesty's faithful Subjects, there can be no Reason for apprehending any such Thing from the Scheme now proposed to us; whatever Clamours may have been unjustly raised by ill-designing Men against the Scheme before it was known, will certainly all vanish as soon as it comes to be publickly known that there never was any Thing intended by the Scheme, but only to enable the Publick to receive those Duties they are already by Law intitled to; and to prevent the fair Trader's being undone by Rogues and Smugglers: So that one strong Argument with me for agreeing to the Scheme is, that by carrying it into Execution, and thereby shewing to every Man what it really is, those ill-grounded Clamours, which have been raised by the Enemies of the Government, may be allay'd; and may be made appear to be at last as groundless as they were at first malicious. Besides, as one of the chief Things intended by this Scheme, is the Relief of the Landed Interest, it must contribute towards establishing his Majesty and his Government in the Hearts and Affections of all the Landed Gentlemen in England, when they see themselves so considerably relieved as to a Tax, which they have been charged with for a great many Years; and that without loading them, or any of their Fellow-Subjects, with any new Tax whatever, or obliging one honest Man in the Kingdom to contribute a Farthing to the publick Charge more than he did before: This must secure to his Majesty the Affections of all honest Men, and it will greatly improve our Character among our Foreign Neighbous; for when they see that the Government may be supported in Times of Peace, without the Assistance of that Imposition which is yearly raised upon the Landholders of Great-Britain, they will be careful of giving us any Disturbance or Offence; they will all see that we have a Fund in Reserve, ready at all Times, and sufficient for supporting a most heavy and expensive War.
'As to the Severity of the Laws of Excise, I am surpriz'd to hear Gentlemen talk so much of it as they do. They talk of those Laws as if there were something in them most singularly severe, when it is well known that the Laws of the Customs are in many Cases as severe as those of the Excise, and the Powers granted by the former are, in most Cases, as extensive as those granted by the latter: An Officer of the Customs has, in many Cases, a Power of entering the House of any Subject in Britain; this is a Power that is absolutely necessary to be given, and will always be necessary as long as we have any Duties to be levy'd; it is a Power they have had for many Years, and yet it never has been, I hope it never will be abused; if ever it should, the Parliament would, without Doubt, severely chastise that Officer that committed such an Abuse, or those Commissioners who dared to encourage him in the committing of any such Abuse. In this therefore the Laws of the Excise are no more severe than the Laws of the Customs, and in most other Cases we shall find them pretty much the same with respect to Severity; for which Reason I could not but be surprised to hear the honourable Gentleman, who spoke last, say, 'That he thought all those who were subject to the Laws of Excise were downright Slaves, and were entirely deprived of their Liberty:' I believe that most of those People, who are subject to the Laws of Excise, look upon themselves to be as free, and enjoy as much Liberty, as any other of his Majesty's Subjects.
'One of the great Complaints against this Scheme is, I find, that it will greatly increase the Number of ExciseOfficers; a new Army of Excisemen, it is said, must be raised for the Execution of this Scheme, and this may be of dangerous Consequence to our Liberties: But how little Weight there is in this Argument, I leave to every Gentleman to judge; the whole Number proposed to be added is not above 126 Officers; and granting that there were to be 150, is this Nation to be enslaved by 150 little Excisemen? In this there is really something so ridiculous, that I am almost asham'd to mention it.
'Another Objection is, 'That thereby a great many People will be subjected to be try'd by the Commissioners of Excise, or by Commissioners of Appeal, who are entirely dependent on the Crown, and removeable at Pleasure:' But this Objection is, I think, entirely removed, by making the Appeal to three Judges in Westminster-Hall, who are all Judges for Life, and are consequently entirely independent on the Crown. To this the Gentlemen answer, 'That, even before those Judges, the Subject is not to be try'd by a Jury,' and this is loudly complained of, as if the subjecting of Englishmen to any Trial but that by a Jury, were a great 'Innovation, and a dangerous Encroachment upon our Constitution. I own that by the Great Charter, by one of the Fundamental Articles of our Constitution, every Englishman is to be try'd by his Peers; but has not the Wisdom of the Nation found it necessary to admit of many Exceptions to this general Rule; we have several of our most eminent Courts, which are in every Method of their Proceeding an Exception to this Rule; in the Court of Chancery we have no Trials by Juries; in the High Court of Admiralty we have no Trials by Juries; and in many particular Cases it is order'd, that the Affair shall be try d in the most summary Way without any Jury: In all these Cases the Wisdom of the Nation found it necessary to depart from the general Rule established by the Great Charter, and therefore they altered the Method of Trial; Why should not the Legislature now do the same ? Is not their Power the same? And if they see good Reason for it in the present Case ought not they to do it? Whatever is done by the Wisdom of Parliament becomes a Part of our Constitution; and whatever new Method of Trial is thereby introduced, becomes from thenceforth as much a Part of our Constitution as ever the old one was.
'Now, if ever there was a Reason in any Case for altering the ancient Method of Trial by Jury, I am sure there is a very strong Reason for altering it with regard to Trials concerning the Revenue: Every Gentleman, who has been the least conversant in the Courts of Westminster-Hall, well knows the Partiality of Juries in Favour of those, who are sued by the Crown for any Frauds in the publick Revenue; I could give many Instances of it, but I shall mention only one. [Here be inform'd the House of the Case.] The Desendant in this Case was one of the most famous and the most notorious Smugglers in the whole Country, he had often been try'd for such Practices, and though he had always before escaped, yet it was thought impossible he should then get off; I had then the Honour to serve the Crown, and so must very well remember the Trial; the Evidence against him was so very full and clear, that I believe there was not a Man in the Court, except those on the Jury, who were not fully convinced of the Truth of the Evidence given against him; he was, according to the Opinion of every other Man present, fully convicted of what he was accused of; yet the Gentlemen of the Jury thought fit to bring in a Verdict in his Favour: So that really the Crown can never pretend to prevent Smuggling or unfair Trading, as long as the Trials are to be for the most Part by Juries; and where it becomes necessary to alter the Method of Trial, the altering it in that new Case can no more be said to be an Innovation or an Incroachment on our Constitution, than the altering of it formerly in another Case was.
'In short, I have as great a Value for the Liberty of my Fellow-Subjects as any Gentleman in this House; I shall always be ready to appear for the Liberties of my Country, whenever I see them in any Manner attacked: But as Liberty does not at all enter into the present Question, it is needless to make any Declarations about it, or to have it any wise under our Consideration; and therefore I shall be very ready to give my Assent to the Motion made by the honourable Gentleman near me.'
Sir P. Methuon.
'I rise up only to explain myself as to one Particular, in which the honourable and learned Gentleman over the Way, for whom I have a very great Respect, seems to have mistaken me, or rather has misrepresented what I said; for I did not say, that those who are now subject to the Laws of Excise are downright Slaves, or that they are totally depriv'd of their Liberty: I should be sorry if any such Thing could be said of any Man, that has the least Pretence to call himself a Subject of Great Britain; but I said that those, who are subjected to the Laws of Excise, are, so far as they are subjected to such Laws, depriv'd of their Liberty. They are deprived of a Part of their Liberty, and therefore cannot be said to be as free as any other of his Majesty's Subjects. This is still my Opinion, and if those, who are so unfortunate as to be subject to the Laws of Excise, were to be asked the Question, Whether they think themselves as free in all Cases, as those who are subject to no such Laws? I believe there is not one of them but would answer, No.'
Sir J. Barnard.
'I find that the honourable Gentleman who opened this Scheme to the Committee, [Sir Robert Walpole.] and the learned Gentleman who spoke since, [Sir Philip Yorke] make great Complaints of some People's having grosly and maliciously misrepresented their Scheme, before those malicious Persons knew what it was. For my Part, I happen to be of a very different Way of thinking; for tho' I am far from thinking that the Scheme, as now open'd to us, is the very same with what it was when first formed; yet, even as it is now opened, it is such a Scheme, in my Opinion, as cannot, even by Malice itself, be represented to be worse than it really is. Now that I know it; now that I see what it is, it appears to me to be a Scheme that will be attended with all those bad Consequences, that ever were apprehended from it before it was known; and I plainly foresee, that it will produce none of those good Effects, which Gentlemen have been pleased to entertain us with the Hopes of: They have, indeed, gilded the Pill a little, but the Composition within is still the same; and if the People of England be obliged to swallow it, they will find it as bitter a Pill as ever was swallow'd by them since they were a People.
'The learned Gentleman was pleased to say that he was of Opinion, that the Opposition to this wicked Scheme, for so I must call it, proceeded from other Motives than Gentlemen are willing to own. I do not know what Motives he can mean: But I am persuaded, that those Gentlemen who propose this Scheme, have some secret Views, which it would neither be convenient or safe for them to own in this Place; for as to any Reasons or Views, which may be openly avow'd for the proposing of this Scheme, I know of none, but that of preventing the Frauds that may be committed in that Branch of the Revenue now under our Consideration: And that it will not answer that Purpose, has been made plainly appear by my worthy Brother near me; [Mr Perry] but granting that this Scheme should answer such a Purpose, if the Laws now in being, duly executed, are sufficient to answer that Purpose, what Necessity is there for applying this new, this desperate Remedy, a Remedy which is certainly much worse than the Disease? But before I proceed any farther, I shall desire that the Commissioners of the Customs, who are attending at the Door, may be called in.'
Sir J. Barnard moves, That the Commissioners of the Customs might be called in, which being agreed to, they are examin'd as to the Amount of the Frauds in the Tobacco-Trade.
The Commissioners were accordingly called in, and being asked by Sir John Barnard, What they thought the Value of the Frauds committed in the Tobacco-Trade might amount to one Year with another? Their Answer was, That they had never made any Computation: But one of them said, That by a Computation he had made only to satisfy his own private Curiosity, he believed the Frauds come to their Knowledge, might amount to 30 or 40,000 l. per Annum, one Year with another. Then Sir John Barnard ask'd them, Whether it was their Opinion, that if the Officers of the Customs performed their Duty diligently and faithfully, it would not effectually prevent all, or most of the Frauds that could be committed in the Tobacco-Trade? To which they answer'd, That it was their Opinion it would. Then he ask'd them farther, Whether it was their Opinion, that if the Commissioners of the Customs had the same Power over their Officers, as the Commissioners of the Excise have over theirs, it would not contribute a great deal towards making them more faithful in the Discharge of their Duty than they now are? To this their Answer was, That they believed it would. After this, the Commissioners being withdrawn, Sir John Barnard proceeded thus:
'I now leave it to every Gentleman in this House to consider, what real Pretence can be form'd for introducing such a dangerous Scheme, as what has been proposed to us: The only Pretence I have yet heard made use of is, the preventing of Frauds, by which, say they, the fair Trader will be encouraged, and the Revenue encreased: But now you see, that it is the Opinion, even of the Commissioners of the Customs, that, by a due Execution of the Laws now in Being, all or most of those Frauds may be effectually prevented; and I am sure, if they can be prevented by the Laws in Being, the preventing of them by that Method will contribute much more to the Increase of the publick Revenue, and to the Encouragement of the fair Trader, than the preventing of them by Means of the dangerous Scheme now proposed to us. I now leave it to the whole World to judge, who are they that have secret Motives which they are not willing to own; which they dare not own; Whether it be those who are the Proposers and Promoters of this Scheme, or those who are the Opposers of it?
'The learned Gentleman seemed to be surprised how our Constitution, or the Liberties of our Country came to be brought in to the present Debate: He said, 'He thought they 'had no Manner of Concern in the present Question.' I am sorry to differ from a Gentleman who, by his Profession, ought, who certainly does understand the Nature of our Constitution, as well as any Man in England; but I am of Opinion, that the Constitution of our Government, and the Liberty of the Subject, was never more nearly or more immediately concerned in any Question, than they are in the present; they are both so deeply concerned, that their Preservation or their total Overthrow depends entirely upon the Success of the Scheme now under Consideration: If the Scheme succeeds, they must tumble of course; if the Scheme is defeated, they may be preserved: I hope they will be preserved 'till Time shall be no more. But I must say, that the learned Gentleman, and every Gentleman who appears as an Advocate for the Scheme now proposed to us, is much in the Right to keep, if they can, the Constitution and the Liberties of their Country out of the Debate; it is from thence that the principal Arguments are to be formed against their Scheme; it is from thence that such Arguments may be form'd against it, as must appear unanswerable to every Man who has a Regard for either.
'The Gentleman tells us, 'That there are but 120, or 150 Excise-Officers, besides Warehouse-Keepers, to be added by the Scheme now before us;' and this additional Number they seem to make a Ridicule of; but considering the Swarms of Tax-Gatherers we have already establish'd, this small Number, as they call it, is no trivial Matter; and I would be glad to know from those Gentlemen, what they call Warehouse-Keepers, and what Number of them may be necessary? I hope they will allow, that a WarehouseKeeper appointed by the Treasury, and paid by the Treasury, is an Officer of the Revenue, as much as any other Officer whatsoever; and if the Number that there must be of these be added to the other, I believe we may find that the Number of Revenue-Officers to be added by this Scheme must be very considerable.
'As for the new Method of Appeal proposed, I can see no Advantage that it will be of to any unfortunate Man that may have Occasion for it: In all Cases, the Charge and Trouble of attending must be very great, and the Event very precarious; but in most Cases, where poor Retailers may have Occasion to be concerned, the Charge and Trouble of Attendance must be greater than the Subject can bear, so that all such People must succumb; they must submit to the Determination of the Commissioners of the Excise, and can expect no other Redress, but what they meet with from the Mercy of those Commissioners. The Judges of WestminsterHall are, 'tis true, for Life, but they are all named by the Crown; I shall say nothing of the present Judges, who so worthily fill the several Benches of Westminster-Hall; but if they should die, and if the Crown should be resolved to use that Power, which the Parliament had put into their Hands, in order to oppress the Subject, they will always find Judges fit for their Purpose: Judges are but Men, they are subject to the same Frailties that other Men are, and the Crown has always Plenty of Baits wherewithal to tempt them. A Judge may be made a Lord Chief Justice, a Lord Chief Justice may be made a Lord Chancellor, and every one may have a Son, a Brother, or a Cousin to be provided for; and the Crown has many other Ways, by which they may win over a Judge to administer Justice according to the Directions he shall receive from Court; more especially when he is to administer Justice in a summary Way, and without the usual Forms of Proceeding in Courts of Law and Equity. For by this new Method of Appeal, which has been so much bragg'd of, Care has been taken that the Subject shall not be restored to his ancient Birth-Right, that is, to a Trial by Jury: No, this I find is most carefully avoided, and yet I think it must be allow'd, that it is the inherent Right of every Englishman to be tried by his Peers; I am not so much acquainted with Law, as to give an Account of the several Cases in which this Method of Trial has been set aside, or the Reasons for so doing; but I will venture to say, that wherever that Method has been set aside, whether the same was done by the Wisdom of the Nation or otherwise, such an Alteration was an Innovation, and was a dangerous Encroachment upon the original Charter of our Constitution.
'As to the pretended Partiality of Juries, so much complained of by the learned Gentleman, it is of no Weight with me; I cannot see how that honourable Gentleman, or any Gentleman, can pretend to know what Reasons a Jury may have for giving their Verdict: No Gentleman has a Right to be believ'd upon his single Say-so, against a Verdict given by twelve honest Men upon Oath. If there have been so many Verdicts given against the Crown, as that learned Gentleman seems to insihuate, it is to me a strong Proof that Prosecutions have been set on Foot against the Subject, upon the Evidence of Witnesses, whose Credibility or Veracity have not been very much to be depended on; which is so far from being an Argument for altering the Method of Trial by Jury, that it is a very strong Argument for the Continuance of that Method in all Time to come. But as it is now very late, and as I shall probably have another Opportunity of giving my Sentiments more fully upon the Affair now before us, I shall trouble you no farther at present, but only to declare, that now, after hearing this Scheme opened to us, I dislike it as much as ever I did any Representation of it that ever I heard of, and therefore shall give my Negative to the Question propos'd.'
Sir J. Jekyll.
'As the Affair, which is at present the Subject of our Consideration, has been much talk'd of, and variously represented without Doors; and as it has been for some Months the Subject of Conversation amongst People of all Ranks and Qualities, I was fully resolved to suspend my Judgment in relation to it, 'till I should hear it fully opened and laid before this House. There were, indeed, such Clamours raised without Doors, and it was represented in so many hideous Shapes, that I cannot say but I came this Morning to the House, if prejudiced, rather against, than in Favour of any such Project; but still I came, as I always do, altogether undetermined, and resolved so to remain, 'till I was fully inform'd by other Gentlemen, in the Course of the Debate, of all those Facts which ought to be known, before any Determination can be made in an Affair of so great Importance.
'I had before heard, that by this Scheme the Landed Gentlemen were to be eased of a Part of the Land-Tax; that the publick Revenue was to be greatly improved; and that our Planters in America, and our fair Traders at home were to be greatly encouraged: But all these Considerations would have had no Weight with me, if I had found that so many of my Fellow-Subjects were thereby to have been subjected to the grievous Laws of Excise, without any Alleviation or Alteration. I must own, that the Severity of the Laws of Excise has been long justly complained of, but at the same Time I must say, that the many Frauds committed in that Branch of the publick Revenue now under our Consideration are most heavy and grievous, and what I cannot think of seeing the Nation suffer any longer under, without applying some proper Remedy; and since by the Proposition now made to us, there is not only an effectual Remedy provided against all those Frauds, but likewise a Method proposed, by which the Edge of the Laws of Excise is to be blunted, and that Severity taken quite off, which hitherto afforded just Ground of Complaint, therefore I cannot hesitate one Moment as to giving my Assent to what is now proposed.
'This Consideration is of the greater Weight with me, and must be so with every honest Man, that by what is now proposed, the Laws of Excise are to be rectify'd, not only in the Case now before us, but in every other Case; the whole Body of those Laws are to be reform'd and rectify'd in such a Manner, as to remove the greatest Objection, with me indeed the only Objection that could ever be made against the Extension of them; and if this Proposition be now rejected, it is not easy to know when we shall, or if we shall ever have such an Opportunity of reforming those Laws, which have been so long thought so grievous. With me it hath always been a Principle, to hearken to any reasonable Scheme for suppressing of those Frauds which are committed against the Publick; I look upon the Persons guilty of such Frauds as the greatest Criminals, and if they have any Character, if they observe any Decency in private Life, I take it to be only because they have no Opportunity to do otherwise; for that Man must have a very whimsical Conscience, who cheats the Publick, and yet would scruple to cheat a private Man if he had the same Opportunity.
'Whatever Resolutions we may come to in this Committee, there will probably be a Bill or Bills order'd to be brought in pursuant to them; and if in the Course of the Debate, any real Difficulties be started, if any reasonable Objections be made, without Doubt all proper Care will be taken in the framing such Bill or Bills, to obviate all those Difficulties and Objections: This I make no Manner of Doubt of, and therefore I can find no Difficulty in giving my Assent to the Question proposed.'
'Other Gentlemen have already fully explain'd and set forth the great Inconveniencies, which must be brought on the Trade of this Nation, by the Scheme now proposed to us; those have been made very apparent, and from them arises a very strong Objection against what is now proposed: But the greatest Objection arises from the Danger to which this Scheme will most certainly expose the Liberties of our Country; those Liberties, for which our Ancestors have so often ventured their Lives and Fortunes; those Liberties which have cost this Nation so much Blood and Treasure, seem already to be greatly retrenched: I am sorry to say it, but what is now in Dispute seems to me to be the last Branch of Liberty we have to contend for; we have already establish'd a Standing Army, and have made it in a Manner a Part of our Constitution; we have already subjected great Numbers of the People of this Nation to the arbitrary Laws of Excise, and this Scheme is so wide a Step towards subjecting all the rest of the People of England to those arbitrary Laws, that it will be impossible for us to recover or to prevent the fatal Consequences of such a Scheme.
'We are told that his Majesty is a good and a wise Prince, we all believe him to be so; but I hope no Man will pretend to draw any Argument from thence for our surrendering those Liberties and Privileges, which have been handed down to us by our Ancestors: We have, indeed, nothing to fear from his present Majesty; he never will make a bad Use of that Power which we have put into his Hands; but if we once grant to the Crown too great an Extent of Power, we cannot recall that Grant when we have a Mind; and tho' his Majesty should never make a bad Use of it, some of his Successors may: The being govern'd by a wise and a good King, does not make the People a free People; the Romans were as great Slaves under the few good Emperors they had to reign over them, as they were under the most cruel of their Tyrants: After the People have once given up their Liberties, their Governors have all the same Power of oppressing them, tho' they may not perhaps all make the same wicked Use of the Power lodg'd in their Hands; but a Slave, that has the good Fortune to meet with a good natur'd and a humane Master, is no less a Slave than he that meets with a cruel and barbarous one. Our Liberties are too valuable, and have been purchased at too high a Price, to be sported with, or wantonly given up, even to the best of Kings: We have before now had some good, some wise and gracious Sovereigns to reign over us, but we find that under them our Ancestors were as jealous of their Liberties, as they were under the worst of our Kings: It is to be hoped that we have still the same Value for our Liberties; if we have, we certainly will use all peaceable Methods to preserve and secure them; and if such Methods should prove ineffectual, I hope there is no Englishman but has Spirit enough to use those Methods for the Preservation of our Liberties, which were used by our Ancestors for the Defence of theirs, and for transmitting them down to us in that glorious Condition in which we found them. There are some still alive, who bravely ventur'd their Lives and Fortunes in Defence of the Liberties of their Country; there are many whose Fathers were embark'd in the same glorious Cause. Let it never be said, that the Sons of such Men wantonly gave up those Liberties for which their Fathers had risqued so much, and that for the poor Pretence of suppressing a few Frauds in the collecting of the publick Revenues, which might easily have been suppressed without entering into any such dangerous Measures. This is all I shall trouble you with at present, but so much I thought was incumbent upon me to say, in order that I might enter my Protest against the Question now before us.'
'The honourable Gentleman, who open'd this Affair to us, took up so much of the Time of the Committee, and it is now so very late, that I am almost afraid of giving you any Trouble at present; but I hope, considering the Importance of the Subject, that Gentlemen will excuse me, and will allow me to take some Notice of what has been said by the honourable Gentleman who introduced the Debate, and the honourable and learned Gentleman who spoke last but one. As to the Frauds which the honourable Gentleman dwelt so long on, and which the honourable and learned Gentleman was pleased to call heavy and grievous, I believe every Gentleman in the Committee is convinced that there are such Frauds, I believe every Gentleman will agree that they are most heavy and most grievous; but I do not believe that it is of late only that the honourable Gentleman has come to the Knowledge of them, nor do I believe that the Frauds relating to Wine and Tobacco, are the only Frauds he has heard complained of; there is hardly a Gentleman in the Kingdom, but has heard of Frauds in almost every Branch of the publick Revenue; even that honourable Gentleman must have heard many Years ago of the Frauds committed in the Tobacco and Wine-Trade; Why then was there no Remedy sooner proposed? How could that Gentleman see the publick Revenue, for which he expresses such a tender Concern, suffer so long by those Frauds, without proposing some Expedient for preventing them: The Expedient now proposed is certainly no such new or extraordinary Thing; it might have been thought of, I dare say it has often been thought of before this Time, but it seems it was never thought proper to propose it 'till now; at least it was never 'till now thought necessary; and yet it cannot be said, but that the Frauds both in. Wine and Tobacco were as great formerly as they are at this present Time.
'The honourable Gentleman has been pleased to tell us, that his Thoughts are entirely confined to the two Articles of Wine and Tobacco, and that nothing else was ever designed by him, or any of his Acquaintance, to be subjected to the Laws of Excise: Whatever his Thoughts may have been in Time past, he must excuse me if I say, that I do not believe they will be so much confined in Time to come. Are there not Frauds committed in every Branch of the publick Revenue? Will not that honourable Gentleman think himself as much bound in Duty to lay those Frauds before this House, and propose a Remedy for them, as he now thinks himself bound to expose, and to offer a Remedy for preventing the Frauds in Wine and Tobacco? And if the Remedy now proposed, be deemed by Parliament the most proper and effectual Remedy for preventing the Frauds in Wine and Tobacco, will not that be made use of as an Argument for applying the same Remedy as to the Frauds in every other Branch of the publick Revenue? Will it not be said, You did so and so in the Case of Wine and Tobacco, why should you scruple to apply the same Remedy in the Case now before you? So that, from the Gentleman's own Reasoning, from his own Way of Arguing as to the Case which he has been pleased now to lay before us, one may see'a most plain and evident Design of a much farther Extention of the Laws of Excise; one may clearly see a Design of subjecting every Branch of the publick Revenue to those arbitrary Laws; only the Gentleman has a Mind, it seems, to be a little cunning, and to do it by Piece-meal.
'Whatever Opinion the honourable and learned Gentleman may have of the Proposition made by his honourable Friend, it is plain it breathes nothing but the Principles of the most arbitrary and most tyrannical Governments, that have been establish'd in Europe: The enlarging the Power of the Crown; increasing the Number of Dependents on the Crown; rendering the Happiness of the Subject precarious and uncertain, and depending in a Manner entirely on the Good-Will of a Prime Minister, or of those employ'd under him, are the certain Consequences of the Scheme now proposed to us; they are the certain Consequences of all Schemes for extending the Laws of Excise, and are probably the principal Views of all those who set up such Projects. Let Gentlemen but read the political Testaments of Richlieu and Louvois, those Legacies which were left by the Authors to their Master, for instructing him in the Principles of Arbitrary Government; let Gentlemen, I say, but read those Testaments, and they will see, that the Author of this Scheme, whoever he be, must be very well versed in them; they will see how well it agrees with the Principles there laid down for the establishing and supporting of Arbitrary Power. It is for this Reason that the English Nation has always been so averse to Excise-Projects of all Kinds; the very Word Excise has always been odious to the People of England. It is true, there has been an Excise established by Parliament, but it was first given as a Purchase for the Court of Wards and Liveries; and tho' that Court was most justly look'd on as one of our greatest Grievances, yet the Purchase has always been reckoned too dear, and that Parliament which gave the Excise has been branded with the infamous Name of a Pensionary Parliament. Even the great King William, notwithstanding all he had done for the People of England, notwithstanding he was most generally belov'd and esteem'd by his Subjects, yet he had like to have suffer'd by a Notion's prevailing among the People, that some new Excises were to have been establish'd. It was publickly said, that we had got a Dutch King, and that therefore we were to be saddled with Dutch Excises: That wise King was so sensible of the Danger he might be exposed to, by the Prevalence of such a Notion, that he thought it necessary to disavow any such Intention by a publick Declaration.
'I most readily believe, that the honourable and learned Gentleman over the Way comes, at all Times to this House, undetermined as to any Point that is to be brought before us; I believe he always comes resolved to be determined by what shall be offer'd in the Course of the Debate; but I am very much at a Loss to find out what in the present Debate has determin'd him to be of the Opinion he now seems to be of: He has, indeed, told us, 'That the Reformation proposed as to the Laws of Excise, is what very much weighs with him:' He says, 'That the Laws of Excise are to be blunted, and their Edge is to be taken off by what is now proposed.' In this, I must confess my Shortsightedness, I can see no Reformation in what is proposed; what I look on as most grievous in the Laws of Excise is to continue the same as before: Are not the Officers to have the same oppressive and vexatious Powers continued to them? Are not the Commissioners to have the same dispensing Power with regard to Fines and Forfeitures? Are Trials by Jury to be restored to the Subjects? No, all these Grievances are to remain on the same Footing they were before. The Power and Influence of the Crown, by means of the Laws of Excise, is still to be as great as it was before, only there are by this Scheme many Thousands more to be subjected to it: The Method of Appeal is, indeed, to be a little alter'd, but I am afraid the Alteration will not be much for the better; the Expence will be much greater, and the Redress as precarious as ever it was before: How then are the Laws of Excise to be blunted? Where is this Reformation so much boasted of, and on which that honourable and learned Gentleman seems solely to ground his Opinion? But it seems he expects, that when this Proposition comes to the Length of a Bill, many fine Things are to be done, many more Things than we have ever yet heard of: If it should come to the Length of a Bill, which I am in great Hopes it never will, he may very probably find himself disappointed; and if that should be the Case, I doubt not but he will be of a different Opinion.
'Gentlemen have said, that there are no Complaints made of the Laws of Excise, or of the Oppressions of Excise Officers; but I believe there is no Gentleman in this House, who cannot give some Instances, even within his own Knowledge, of most cruel Oppressions committed by some of those Officers; I am sure there is no Gentleman, who has ever acted in the Country as a Justice of Peace, but can give hundreds of such Instances. The People have complained so often; and so long, of the Severity of those Laws, and the Vexation of those Officers, that they are now weary of complaining: To what Purpose should they complain, since they see there has never as yet been any Provision made for their Redress? Their Complaints have been hitherto disregarded, even by those who are in some Manner bound to take Notice of them.
'The honourable Gentleman was pleased to dwell long on the Generosity of the Crown, in giving up the Fines, Forfeitures, and Seizures to the Publick; but, in my Opinion, it will be but a poor Equivalent for the many Oppressions and Exactions, which the People will be exposed to by this Scheme. I must say, that the honourable Gentleman has himself been of late mighty bountiful and generous, in his Offers to the Publick: He has been so gracious as to ask us, 'Will you have a Land-Tax of two Shillings in the Pound, or a Land-Tax but of one; or will you have no Land-Tax at all? Will you have your Debts paid? Will you have them soon paid? Tell me but what you want, let me but know how you can be made easy, and it shall be done for you.' These are most generous Offers, but there is something so very extraordinary, there is something so farcical in them, that really I can hardly mention them without-Laughing: It puts me in Mind of the Story of Sir Epicure Mammon in The Alchymist; he was gull'd out of his Money by fine Promises; he was promised the Philosopher's Stone, by which he was to get Mountains of Gold, and every Thing else he could desire; but all ended at last in 'some little Thing for curing the Itch.'
'I wish the Gentlemen, who appear so zealous for this Scheme, would have some little Regard to their Constituents. It is well known that it was the Custom among our Ancestors, when any new Device was proposed, to desire Time to have a Conference with their Countries: I am but very little conversant in Books of Law, however I sometimes look into them; and I must beg Leave to read a Passage or two on this Subject, from my Lord Coke. That great Lawyer, in the 4th Part of his Institutes, Page 14, says, 'It is also the Law and Custom of the Parliament, that when any new Device is moved on the King's Behalf, in Parliament, for his Aid, or the like, the Commons may answer, that they tender'd the King's Estate, and are ready to aid the same, only in this new Device they dare not agree without Conference with their Countries; whereby it appeareth, that such Conference is warrantable by the Law and Custom of Parliament.' And again, Page 34, he tells us, 'At the Parliament holden in the 9th of King Edward III. When a Motion was made for a Subsidy of a new Kind, the Commons answer'd, that they would have Conference with those of their several Countries and Places, who had put them in Trust, before they treated of any such Matter.' If such a Conference was ever necessary upon any Occasion, it is surely necessary before we agree to the Device now offered to us; a Device which, in my Opinion, strikes at the very Root of our Liberties; it is, in my way of Thinking, a downright Plan for arbitrary Power; and in this I am not singular, for there seems to be many Gentlemen of the same Opinion within Doors as well as without; therefore I must think that it is necessary, it is incumbent upon every Gentleman in this House, at least, to desire to have a Conference with his Constituents, before he agrees to any such Device: This would have been necessary, if we had been entirely ignorant of the Sentiments of our several Countries; but indeed in the present Case, such a Conference seems to be quite unnecessary; we already know the Sentiments of our Constituents in relation to the Device now offered to us; the whole Nation has already, in the most open Manner, declared their Dislike to it; and therefore I hope the Gentlemen of this Committee will reject it with that Scorn and Contempt it deserves.'
Sir W. Wyndham.
'Though it be now very late, yet I must beg Leave to offer my Sentiments upon the Question now in Debate; for it is a Question of such Importance, that I should not think I discharged the Duty I owe to my Country, without declaring, in the most open and publick Manner, my Dislike and Abhorrence of the Scheme which has been now opened to us. The Scheme, as now explained to us, has, in my Opinion, been no Way misrepresented; it is the very same with what has been represented to us, it is the very same with that which the Nation has so openly and so generally declared their Dislike to; it is fraught with all those Evils which were ever attributed to it, and most apparently strikes at the very Fundamentals of our Constitution. The Collecting of any Duties by the Laws of Excise, has, in all Ages, and in all Countries, been looked on as the most grievous and most oppressive Method of collecting Taxes; and if one Method of raising an Excise can be more oppressive than another, it must be granted, that the Method now proposed to us, of raising this new Excise, must of all Methods be the most oppressive, and the most vexatious to the People: In all Countries, Excises of every Kind are look'd on as Badges of Slavery; and though the English Nation be now unfortunately subjected to some of them, yet I hope they will never consent to any new Excises, or to any new Extention of the Laws of Excise, let the Pretences for so doing be ever so specious.
'But in the present Case, let us consider what are the specious Pretences made use of, what are the great Advantages proposed, for persuading us to consent to the subjecting so many of his Majesty's faithful Subjects to be plagued and harrassed by the Officers of Excise. The Suppressing of Frauds, and the Advantages that will accrue therefrom to the Publick and to the fair Trader, is, by what I can find, the only Pretence now made use of; and yet those Frauds, even aggravated as they were by the honourable Gentleman who proposed this Scheme to us, do amount to a meer Trifle; so that the Improvement to be made, as to the publick Revenue, will be but very inconsiderable, if any at all, after deducting the additional Charges of Management, which the Publick will become liable to by the great Increase of Officers: This Pretence therefore, even when set in the strongest Light, can be no sufficient Argument for prevailing on us to expose our Constitution to the least Danger, or to subject any of our Fellow-Countrymen to great Hardships: But this Pretence is still more frivolous, since it has been made appear to us, that those Frauds are not at all so considerable as they have been represented; that all Sorts of Frauds cannot be prevented, even by the Scheme now proposed; and that many of those Frauds, that have been lately committed, might be prevented by the Laws now in Being, if Care were taken to have proper Officers, and to make those Officers diligent and faithful. I grant, indeed, that the Power and Influence of the Crown will be greatly increased and improved by this Scheme, I must own, that great Numbers of the People of this Nation will thereby be render'd most submissive and obedient to those that shall hereafter be employ'd by the Crown; and if this be a Motive for agreeing to this Scheme, I must allow that it is a strong one, I believe, indeed, that' it is the only real one that any Gentleman can have for giving his Consent to such a Scheme; but with me it is so far from being a Motive for giving my Consent, that it is the strongest Motive I have for giving my Negative to the Question now before us, because I think it absolutely inconsistent with our Constitution.
''Tis true, an Ease to the Landed Interest has upon this, as well as upon some other late Occasions of the like Nature, been thrown out as a Bait for some Gentlemen: But I hope the Landed Gentlemen are not to be caught by such Baits; the Hook appears so plain, that it may be discover'd by any Man of common Sense; however, I must say, that the Method of Arguing is unfair, the Design is wicked; for it is an Endeavour to set the Landed Interest in a Manner at War with the Trading Interest of the Nation; it is endeavouring to destroy that Harmony which always ought to subsist among the People of the same Nation, and which if once destroy'd, would certainly end in the Ruin and Destruction of the whole. But every Landed Gentleman in England will do well to consider what Value their Lands would be of, if for the sake of a small and immediate Ease to themselves, they should be induced to oppress and destroy the Trade of their Country; and whoever considers this, will despise all such Projects, and reject them with that Contempt which they deserve; this is one Reason for the Landed Gentlemen not to accept of the pretended Ease, now offer'd to them, on agreeing to the Scheme now proposed; but there is another strong Reason against it: This House of Commons is mostly composed of Gentlemen of the best Families and greatest Properties, perhaps in the Nation, they have generally a great Family-Interest in the several Counties, Cities and Boroughs they represent; if this Scheme should take Effect, that Interest will soon be destroy'd; and surely no Man will agree to a Scheme, which must inevitably destroy the natural Interest the great Families have, and always ought to have, in their respective Counties; and transfer the whole to the Crown: If this Scheme should once be establish'd, the Power and Influence of the Crown will be so great in all Parts of the Nation, that no Man can depend upon the natural Interest he has in his Country for being a Member of this House; he must in all future Times for such a Favour depend entirely upon the Crown; and this, I hope, there is no Gentleman in this House would chuse to submit to.
'Queen Elizabeth, that wise and gracious Princess, govern'd herself by Politicks, quite different from those which seem to be at present in Vogue; she was so far from endeavouring to divide or throw Discord among her Subjects, that she wisely never gave herself up to any one Minister, or to any one Party; she always preserved a Harmony among all her Subjects, and kept a friendly Correspondence with all Parts and all Parties in the Kingdom; she even kept up a constant Personal Correspondence with some of the principal Men in every County, by which she had always a thorough Knowledge of the several Sentiments, as well as Circumstances, of all her Subjects, and most prudently adapted all her Measures to what she found to be the Sentiments of the Generality of the Nation; more particularly she took Care to avoid every Thing that appeared to be disagreeable to the People: To this wise Policy it is owing, that her Reign makes such a glorious Figure in the English History; to this it is owing, that she reign'd with more Popularity than any Prince since her Time, except her Royal Successor Queen Anne: Thus she reigned, and reign'd absolutely, but so as I could wish every Prince in England to do; she reign'd absolutely over the Hearts and Affections of her Subjects, and thereby she had both their Persons and their Purses always at Command.
'Gentlemen ask, Why do you complain of this Scheme? Here is no new Tax to be imposed; there is nothing proposed but only a new Method of raising those Taxes which are already due by the Law: But I would have Gentlemen remember, that this Nation has once already been more grievously oppressed, by a new Method of raising and collecting that Money that was before due by Law, than they ever were by any new Tax that was ever laid on them: I have already mention'd the Reign of Queen Elizabeth; let us but look a little farther back, and we shall find that the People were most terribly harrassed, and the Nation almost destroy'd, by a grievous Method of collecting and raising that which was due by the Laws then in Being. Empson and Dudley, those two noted Ways and Means-Men, those two wicked Ministers, knowing the Avarice of their Master, and the insatiable Desire he had for Money, concluded that no Scheme would be more agreeable to him, than those which would fill his Coffers by draining the Purses of his Subjects; and this they did, without imposing any new Taxes, they laid no new or illegal Burdens on the People, they did it by a severe and rigorous Execution of the Laws that had before been enacted; But what was their Fate? They had the Missortune to outlive their Master: But his Son, as soon as he came to the Throne, took off both their Heads; and in this he did justly, tho' he did it against Law: They had done nothing contrary to Law; they had only put the Laws severely in Execution, and what they did was in Obedience to the Command of the King his Father; yet that could be no Excuse for them; their Manner of executing those Laws was so grievous and oppressive upon the Subjects, that nothing less than their Lives could be admitted of as a sufficient Atonement to the People; and certainly, that Oppression which is committed under the Sanction of the Laws, or of the Royal Authority, must always be deemed the most heinously criminal, and ought to be the most severely punish'd.
'There never was in any Reign a Scheme or Project attempted, so much to the Dislike and Dissatisfaction of the People in general; the whole Nation has already so openly declared their Aversion to the Scheme now offered to us, that I am surprized to see it insisted on; the very proposing of such a Scheme to the House of Commons, after so many Remonstrances against it, I must think most audacious; it is in a Manner flying in the Face of the whole People of England; and since they have already declared against it, God forbid that we who are their Representatives should declare for it.'
Sir R. Walpole.
'As I was obliged, when I opened the Affair now before you, to take up a great deal of your Time, I then imagined that I should not have been under a Necessity of giving you any farther Trouble; but when such Things are thrown out, Things which in my Opinion are quite foreign to the Debate; when the ancient Histories, not only of this, but other Countries, are ransack'd for Characters of wicked Ministers, in order to adapt them to the present Times, and to draw Parallels between them and some modern Characters, to which they bear no other Resemblance than that they were Ministers, it is impossible for one to fit still: Of late Years, I have dealt but little in the Study of History, but I have a very good Prompter by me, [meaning Sir Philip Yorke] and by his Means I can recollect, that the Case of Empson and Dudley, mention'd by the honourable Gentleman who spoke last, was so very different from any Thing that can possibly be presumed from the Scheme now before us, that I wonder how it was possible to lug them into the Debate: The Case as to them was, that they had by Virtue of old and obsolete Laws, most unjustly extorted great Sums of Money from People, who, as was pretended, had become liable to great Pains and Penalties, by having been guilty of Breaches of those obsolete Laws, which for many Years before had gone entirely into Disuse. I must say, and I hope most of those that hear me think, that it is very unjust and unfair to draw any Parallel between the Characters of those two Ministers and mine, which was, I suppose, what the honourable Gentleman meant to do, when he brought that Piece of History into the Debate. If I ever endeavour to raise Money from the People, or from any Man whatever by oppressive or illegal Means, if my Character should ever come to be in any Respect like theirs, I shall deserve their Fate: But while I know myself to be innocent, I shall depend upon the Protection of the Laws of my Country; as long as they can protect me I am safe; and if that Protection should fail, I am prepared to submit to the worst that can happen. I know that my political and ministerial Life has by some Gentlemen been long wished at an End, but they may ask their own disappointed Hearts, how vain their Wishes have been; and as for my natural Life, I have lived long enough to learn to be as easy about parting with it, as any Man can well be.
'As to those Clamours which have been raised without Doors, and which are now so much insisted on, it is very well known by whom and by what Methods they were raised, and it is no difficult Matter to guess with what Views; but I am very far from taking them to be the Sense of the Nation, or believing that the Sentiments of the Generality of the People were thereby expressed. The most Part of the People concerned in those Clamours did not speak their own Sentiments, they were play'd by others like so many Puppets; it was not the Puppets that spoke, it was those behind the Curtain that play'd them, and made them speak whatever they had a Mind.
'There is now a most extraordinary Concourse of People at our Door; I hope it will not be said, that all those People came there of themselves naturally, and without any Instigation from others; for to my certain Knowledge, some very odd Methods were used to bring such Multitudes hither; circular Letters were wrote, and sent by the Beadles, in the most publick and unprecedented Manner, round almost every Ward in the City, summoning them upon their Peril to come down this Day to the House of Commons: This I am certain of, because I have now one of those Letters in my Pocket, signed by a Deputy of one of the greatest Wards in the City of London, and sent by the Beadle to one of the Inhabitants of that Ward; and I know that such Letters were sent in the same Manner almost to every Liveryman and Tradesman in that Ward: And by the same Sort of unwarrantable Methods have the Clamours been raised, almost in every other Part of the Nation.
'Gentlemen may say what they please of the Multitudes now at our Door, and in all the Avenues leading to this House; they may call them a modest Multitude if they will; but whatever Temper they were in when they came hither, it may be very much alter'd now, after having waited so long at our Door: It may be a very casy Matter for some designing seditious Person to raise a Tumult and Disorder among them, and when Tumults are once begun, no Man knows where they may end; he is a greater Man than any I know in the Nation, that could with the same Ease appease them; for this Reason I must think, that it was neither prudent nor regular to use any Methods for bringing such Multitudes to this Place, under any Pretence whatever. Gentlemen may give them what Name they think fit; it may be said that they came hither as humble Supplicants, but I know whom the Law calls Sturdy Beggars; and those who brought them hither could not be certain, but that they might have behav'd in the same Manner.'
Sir John Barnard rising up to speak, and there being a Disorder in the Committee, Sir John Hynde Cotton speaks to Order.
'To Order, Sir, I hope you will call Gentlemen to Order; there is now a Gentleman up to speak, a Gentleman who speaks as well as any Gentleman in this House, and who deserves Attention as much as any Gentleman that ever spoke in this House: Besides, he is one of the Representatives of the greatest and richest City in Europe, a City which is greatly interested in this Debate, and therefore he must be heard; and I desire, Sir, that you will call to Order, that the Committee may shew him at least that Respect, which is due to every Gentleman who is a Member of this House.'
The Committee being call'd to Order, Sir J. Barnard goes on.
'I know of no irregular or unfair Methods that were used to call People from the City to your Door; it is certain that any Set of Gentlemen or Merchants may lawfully desire their Friends, they may even write Letters, and they may send those Letters by whom they please, to desire the Merchants of Figure and Character to come down to the Court of Requests and to our Lobby, in order to solicite their Friends and Acquaintance against any Scheme or Project, which they think may be prejudicial to them. This is the undoubted Right of the Subject, and what has been always practised upon all Occasions. The honourable Gentleman talks of Sturdy Beggars, I do not know what Sort of People may be now at our Door, because I have not lately been out of the House; but I believe they are the same Sort of People that were there when I came last into the House, and then I can assure you that I saw none, but such as deserve the Name of Sturdy Beggars as little as the honourable Gentleman himself, or any Gentleman whatever. It is well known that the City of London was sufficiently apprised of what we were this Day to be about; where they got their Information I do not know, but I am very certain that they had a right Notion of the Scheme which has been now opened to us; and they were so generally and zealously bent against it, that whatever Methods may have been used to call them hither, I am sure it would have been impossible to have found any legal Methods to have prevented their coming hither.'
Then after some farther Debate, the Question being put upon the Motion made by Sir Robert Walpole, it was carried in the Affirmative, by 266 Voices against 205. The Reader will find the Names of the Members, who voted Pro and Con in this Debate, in the APPENDIX.
Four Resolutions of the Committee of the whole House, in pursuance of Sir Robert Walpole's Motion relating to the Excuse Scheme;
After this three other Motions were agreed to, without any Division; which, with the first Resolution, are as follows. I. That it is the Opinion of this Committee, that the Subsidy and additional Duty upon Tobacco of the British Plantations, granted by an Act of the 12th of King Charles II. and the Impost thereon, granted by an Act of the 1st of King James II. and also the one third Subsidy thereon, granted by an Act of the 2d of Queen Anne, amounting in the whole to 5⅓ d. per Pound, for several Terms of Years in the said respective Acts mention'd, and which have since been continued and made perpetual, subject to Redemption by Parliament, shall from and after the 24th Day of June 1733, cease and determine. II. That in lieu of the said Duties so to be determined, there should be granted to his Majesty an Inland Duty of 4d. per Pound upon all Tobacco imported from the British Plantations, to be paid before the taking the same out of the Warehouse. III. That the Inland Duties, to be raised and levied upon Tobacco, be appropriated and applied to the same Uses and Purposes, as the former Duties upon Tobacco, to be determined, were appropriated and applied. IV. That all Fines, Penalties, Forfeitures, and Seizures, to arise by the said Duties, be apply'd to the Use of the Publick, except so much thereof as should be allowed to the Informers or Prosecutors.'