The History and Proceedings of the House of Commons: Volume 7, 1727-1733. Originally published by Chandler, London, 1742.
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Which being reported to the House, and a Motion made for agreeing with the Committee in the First Resolution. it occasions a first Debate.
March 16. Sir Charles Turner reported the above Resolutions to the House; and a Motion being made for agreeing with the Committee in the first Resolution, Sir John Barnard stood up and spoke as follows:
Sir John Barnard.
'Though the Resolutions which have been now read to us, were agreed to by a Majority of those present in the Committee, yet I can make no Manner of Doubt, but that now, after Gentlemen have had Time to consider that Affair seriously, there will be many of a different Opinion from what they were of in the Committee; for my own Part, I must say, that the more I consider that Scheme on which these Resolutions are founded, the more Objections I find to it, and the less I find in those Arguments which were offered in Support of it. One of the chief Ends proposed by this Scheme is, the preventing of those Frauds which have formerly been committed in the Tobacco-Trade; but, if we particularly examine those Frauds we shall find, that every one of them may either be prevented by the Laws already in Being, or they are such as cannot be effectually prevented by any Thing in the Scheme proposed.
'The Fraud which has been committed upon the Weighing of the Tobacco at the Custom-House, and likewise that of exporting one Sort of Tobacco for another, is altogether owing, as has been already observed, to a Neglect of Duty in the Officers, and not to any Defect in the Laws: And as to the Frauds of running or re-landing Tobacco, after it has been enter'd for Exportation and has received the Drawbacks, which are those by which the Publick has and always will suffer most, there is nothing in the Scheme that can any Way contribute to the preventing them; for it is not the Manner of collecting of Duties, but the Amount of the Duties, which occasions Smuggling and Running in all Countries, and in all Branches of Trade; and since the Duties on Tobacco are by this Scheme to be as high, or very near as high, as they were before, we may expect there will be as much Smuggling as there was formerly; where the Temptation is great, the Number of the Tempted will increase in Proportion, let the Danger they run be never so great.
'As for the Warehouses proposed, if there be any Thing in that Part of the Scheme, which may be of Use against Smuggling, it is not to this Scheme, that the Proposition owes its Birth; it is what the Merchants themselves have long ago desired; and for that Purpose I drew up some Time ago a Clause to have been offer'd to this House, which I shewed to the honourable Gentleman on the Floor; and at that Time the Affair would have been pushed, but there arose some Disputes and Differences among the Merchants themselves, which occasioned its being deferred: That Part of the Scheme therefore I shall find no Fault with, I believe no Merchant will, but then we would have it without the Laws of Excise; for this Reason the honourable Gentleman cries out against the Merchants, as a very unreasonable Set of Men; he says, that they formerly desired to have Warehouses, and yet now they refuse to accept of them. But do not Gentlemen see where the Difference lies? The Merchants desire to have Warehouses without an Excise, and the honourable Gentleman will not, it seems, favour us with the one, without loading us with the other.
'As to what the Civil List may get by this Scheme, it will depend entirely upon the Effect the Scheme may have in relation to the Preventing of Frauds; but it is certain, that if the publick Revenue get any Thing by the Scheme, the Civil List will get in Proportion, or rather more; for, by what is now proposed, that Part of the Duty, which goes towards the Civil List, is still to be payable upon Importation at the Custom-House, and to be drawn back on Exportation, as before: Now it is manifest, that this will be a great Advantage to the Civil List, and often a great Inconvenience to the Merchant; for once in every fix Weeks that Money will be carry'd to the Exchequer, and when once it is lodged there, I believe it will there remain; it will never be sent back to the Custom-House to answer any Occasion there may be for it at that Place; so that when the Merchant comes to export a Quantity of Tobacco, and to call for his Drawback, if the Commissioners have none of that Civil List Money in their Hands, they cannot apply the Produce of any other Branch of the publick Revenue to that Use, and therefore the Merchant must wait for his Drawback 'till some new Tobacco be imported; by which Means the Crown may often have the Use of that Money, which should have been applied to the Payment of the Merchant, perhaps for near a Twelvemouth at a Time; and the Laying out of that Money for so long a Time, may often happen to be of dangerous Consequence to the Merchant's Credit.
'The honourable Gentleman talk'd of making London a free Port, I wish with all my Heart he would do so; it is certainly what every Merchant wishes to see done, and what would greatly contribute to the Increase and Encouragement of the Trade of this Nation; but how such a Pretence can be set up in favour of the Scheme now before us, I cannot comprehend, for I can see nothing in the Scheme that has the least Tendency towards producing an Effect so much to be wished for: On the contrary, it appears evident to me, that by this Scheme, the Port of London, and all the other Ports of the Kingdom, will be so far from being made free, that at every one of them the Merchant will be subjected to more Trouble and Expence, both upon Importation and Exportation, than ever he was before. 'Tis true that upon the Importation of Tobacco, the Merchant was formerly obliged to pay down the whole Duties, or give his Bond with sufficient Sureties for them; but this was never any Hardship upon the Merchant, because, if he had ready Money, he advanced it for the prompt Payment of the Duties, and he had an Allowance for so doing; which was but a reasonable Allowance, considering how long he was sometimes obliged to keep his Tobacco on his Hands, before he met with a Market either for Home-Consumption or Exportation, and how many Months Credit he was often after that obliged to give to the Buyer; and if he had not ready Money at Command, he could formerly give his Bond for the whole Duties with two sufficient Sureties, which a Man of tolerable Credit could always easily find; whereas by this Scheme, it seems, every Merchant-Importer of Tobacco must pay some Part of the Duties at the Entry, let him make what Shift he will for the Money, which to a poor Man is a new Hardship; and to a rich Man the Payment of that Part of the Duties in ready Money, is a greater Hardship than the Payment of the whole, considering that he has no Allowance for prompt Payment, as to that Part of the Duties which he is obliged to pay in ready Money.
'I am surprised to hear any Gentleman say, that Brewers make no Complaints on account of their being subjected to the Laws of Excise; I do not know what Sort of Brewers those Gentlemen may converse with, but I never conversed with any who did not complain of it as a very great Grievance, nor did I ever meet with any who could not give very substantial Reasons for their Complaints. There are many particular Ways by which the Officers of Excise may be troublesome and vexatious to the Brewer; but there is one which is generally practised all over the Kingdom, and that is, that those Officers not only gauge and take an Account of their Liquors, but likewise oblige the Brewers to shew them their Books as often as they have a Mind; by which Means they not only pry into all the Secrets and Mysteries of their Trade, but likewise into their Circumstances and Fortunes. Can any Gentleman look upon this as no Grievance? Is it not a Hardship upon any Man to have the Secrets and Mysteries of his Trade exposed to every little Fellow, whom the Commissioners of Excise shall please to put in Authority over him? But is it not still a greater Hardship, for a Man to be obliged to discover his Circumstances to one who is an utter Stranger to him, perhaps to one who is his most implacable Enemy?
'The honourable Gentleman, I find, values himself much upon the small Increase of Excise-Officers that is to be made by his Scheme; but then he seems to forget the WarehouseKeepers; they, as well as the other Officers of Excise, are all to be named by the Crown, and paid by the Publick, consequently they are certainly to be called Officers of the Revenue: They will be as expensive to the Publick, and as great Slaves to the Administration, as any other Sort of Officers whatever. As there are to be a great Number of Tobacco Warehouses in Britain, there must be a great Number of them employ'd to attend those Warehouses as often as there shall be Occasion for them, otherwise it will be impossible for the Merchant to manage or dispose of the Goods he has there lodged; from whence I must conclude, that the Number of those Warehouse-keepers will be much more than double the Number of the other new Officers to be added by this Scheme.
Gentlemen seem to make light of the Trouble that Merchants will be put to by those. Warehouse-keepers; they think it will be no Inconvenience to the Merchant to be debarred all Access to his Goods, but at those Hours when the Warehouse-keeper is to be obliged to attend him. Those, who argue at this Rate, seem to know but little of the various Accidents that happen in Trade; but this is not the only Inconvenience that even the Merchant is to be exposed to by this Scheme; he must, for every Quantity of Tobacco he sells, make a Journey, or send a Messenger to the Permit-Office for a Permit, which must necessarily put him to a great deal of Trouble and Expence; and therefore, that the Merchant may be as much eased as possible, I hope that, as soon as those publick Warehouses are all appointed, there will be two little Lodges like Centry-Boxes, built somewhere adjoining to each Warehouse, one for the WarehouseKeeper, and the other for the Officer who is to grant the Permits.
'It has been said, that Liberty has nothing to do in the Question now before us; but, in my Opinion, if it is not deeply concern'd in this Question, it never can be concern'd in any Question that can come before this House: Is not every Man's House looked on as his Asylum? Is then the giving a Power to any little paltry Exciseman, to enter People's Houses at all Times of the Day and Night, no Encroachment upon the Liberty of those People? If it is not an Encroachment upon a Man's Liberty, it certainly is a very direct one upon his Property, and of Consequence it will be found to be an Encroachment upon his Liberty; for can any Man be said to be free, who must submit to, and be the humble Slave of his Exciseman, otherwise he must expect no Quiet or Comfort within his own Dwelling House: The most blameless Conduct cannot secure him against Vexation; and no Man can be said to be free, who cannot depend upon his Innocence for his Protection: An Officer invested with such Power, may fall upon twenty Ways to teaze and vex the most innocent Man upon Earth: I know, that one of my Acquaintance, who has the Misfortune to be subject to the Laws of Excise already in Being, was, for a considerable Time together, regularly visited by his Exciseman at the Hour the Family went to Dinner; and if they had but civilly ask'd the Gentleman to call at any other Time, his immediate Answer was, 'No, Sir, I am in a Hurry, I have a great deal of other Business to attend besides yours; I must immediately visit such a Place; if you will not allow me, I must go, and I know what to do. By this rude Behaviour the whole Family was disturbed, and one of them was always obliged to get up from Dinner, in order to go and let him visit such Places in the House as he had a Mind.'
'These are the Fellows who, by this fine Scheme, are to be put into every Man's House that is a Dealer in either of the two Commodities of Tobacco or Wine: These are the Lord Danes, who are to be by Law appointed to lord it over every such Dealer and his whole Family: We know what was the Fate of the Lord Danes we had formerly in England, and I shall be very little surprized if these new ones meet with the same Fate. In short, Gentlemen may dress up this Scheme in what Shape they please; but to one who considers it coolly and impartially as I have done, it must appear in its true Colours. I am convinced that it will produce nothing but the most mischievous Consequences, not only to those who are to be immediately affected by it, but likewise to the Liberties and Properties of the Nation in general; and therefore I am entirely against agreeing to the Resolutions of the Committee.'
'As I had not an Opportunity in the Committee of giving my Opinion in this Question, I hope I shall be indulged the Liberty of doing it now, since I find the whole is to be canvassed over again. I will take up as little of your Time as possible, in making a few Observations on the Scheme itself as it now appears to us, and on what has fell from some Gentlemen in the Course of this Debate.
'I cannot help expressing my Surprize, to hear so often repeated the cruel Usage the English Merchants have met with of late: For God's Sake, let all that has been said in this House, during the Time this Affair has been upon the Anvil, be fairly and impartially canvassed, and 'twill come out to be against the unfair Dealers in Wine and Tobacco, and against them only; why should Gentlemen therefore apply it to Merchants in General? Give me Leave to say, whoever makes such Application, 'tis they who pin the Question upon the whole Body of Merchants, and not those Gentlemen who think the Method proposed of collecting this Revenue, will secure to the Publick what they have an undoubted Right to. All that has been said on this Head, and what we are now endeavouring to do by this Bill, is calculated to affect those Men only, whose Artifices and Cunning have hitherto evaded the Customs, against whom no less Caution can secure that Duty to the publick Purse, which every Consumer of this Commodity has an indisputable Right to have fairly collected.
'Surely no Gentleman, who appears for this Scheme, would for his own Sake protect or countenance it, if he imagined the Success of it would either affect our Trade, or the Body of the English Merchants immediately concerned in the Exportation of our Manufactures, or by way of Return for them in the Importation of foreign Productions useful and necessary to us; for it is to our Trade, and to our Merchants, that the real Causes of the Wealth and Prosperity of this Nation are principally to be ascribed: But this Scheme is not intended to affect, nor will, I think, in any Shape reach these Men, which when they come impartially to consider, they must be sensible of; and then they will be able to judge, whether they have been alarmed at the Approach of real, or only at the Noise of imaginary Dangers.
'I am very sorry to hear so often urged, that these Restrictions proposed only for the preventing of Frauds will be a Discouragement to Trade in general; for the natural Conclusion from thence would seem to be, that Frauds and Trade were inseparable: As the very Foundation of this Scheme, appears to me to be intended for the Improvement of the publick Revenue by the Discouragement of Frauds; when it is so often affirmed, that it will also be a Discouragement to Trade, a Stranger in the Gallery, who was to hear our Debates, would naturally imagine that a Continuance of or a Connivance at Frauds, was in this Country a necessary Encouragement to Trade.
'As this Bill appears to me to be attended with certain Advantages to the Tobacco-Trade, and as I should be glad to be set right if I am mistaken; I beg Leave to ask a few Questions of those who are conversant in Trade: Whether high Duties on Goods imported are not a great Weight on every Branch of Trade so loaded; as it not only obliges the Merchant to keep a double Stock in ready Money, but of course confines that Trade to a very narrow Circle of Dealers, and surely it never can be the Interest of a Trading Nation to encourage Monopolies? Then I must ask, Whether, as the Law now stands, the Tobacco-Trade has not this Hardship attending it? If it be so, I would ask, Whether this Clog is not entirely removed by this Scheme? no Duty being to be paid at Importation, nor any Money demanded 'till the Factor has made his Bargain with the Retailer,' who is to pay the whole Duty?
'Is it not another allowed Maxim in Trade, that one of the greatest Temptations to Frauds are large Drawbacks on Goods exported, nay the very Parent of Frauds in this Commodity? If this be a Fact, is not this Motive to Frauds entirely removed, there being by this Scheme no Temptation whatever to Frauds on this Head? for by this Scheme as now amended, there is no Part of the Duty to be paid at Importation, there is not a Farthing of the Duty ever to be paid for the Tobacco which shall hereafter be re-exported; so that the honourable Gentleman who spoke first, and who always speaks so well and with so much Weight in this House, has in this Particular entirely mistaken the Scheme now before us.
'Has not the Method of Bonding the Duties, 'till very lately at least, been universally allowed to be often fatal to both the Planters and Factors, and as often detrimental to the Publick? Is not this Hardship quite obviated by this Scheme? Is not Bonding entirely out of the present Question?
'Were not the Charges in the Bills of Sale from the Factor to his Planter a very great Hardship on the latter? According to all those I have seen, they never amounted to less than 25 per Cent, and oftner to much more, on the whole neat Produce returned to the Planter for his Tobacco. I don't mean to accuse the Factor of taking an extravagant or unjust Gain on this Head: but what I think we are now contending to remove, is the Pretence for and the Foundation of these Charges, which have been so greatly detrimental to: that Trade, and so great a Hardship on the Virginia and Maryland. Planters, who now send you a Merchandize that proves to this Nation, by the great Quantities re-exported to foreign Markets, a very beneficial Branch of your Commerce; and if something be not now done in their Behalf, I am told from very good Hands, we shall run the Risque of losing this Staple of Tobacco: Then 'twill be too late to consider what Methods are best for collecting the Duties on it; and therefore, were there no other Motive for this Bill, this Consideration alone would weigh greatly with me, to make a Trial, at least, of the Method now proposed for giving Relief to so considerable a Part of our American Colonies.
'Now I am up, Sir, give me Leave to remind Gentlemen, that, as the Law now stands 4¾d. neat Money, at least, is paid on each Pound of Tobacco, immediately on Importation, tho' the Importer takes the Advantage of all the Discounts on prompt Payment, otherwise the Duty comes higher: But by this Scheme, the whole Duty will be at the highest but 4¾d. per Pound Weight, and will not be demanded 'till the Tobacco is taken out of the Warehouse for HomeConsumption, and therefore may sometimes not be paid 'till eighteen Months or two Years after the landing of the Tobacco: Let therefore who will advance the Money, this farther Credit given by the Publick, for the Payment of the Duty, must be a certain Benefit to this Trade; and thus, by Postponing the Payment of the Duties 'till so much nearer the Time of Consumption, the Dealers in Tobacco will be enabled, and ought to afford it to the Consumer on more reasonable Terms.
'If then this Scheme be found to be no real Detriment to the fair, Merchant, and a certain Benefit to the Planters, I believe in another Particular it will be a demonstrable Advantage to the Publick, I mean an Improvement of the Revenue: But what appears to me pretty extraordinary is, to hear that Improvement urged as one of the chief Objections against the whole Scheme, because the Civil-List Revenue will also of course receive some Increase. Give me Leave to say, that whatever Appearance of Weight there might have been in this Objection before the Scheme was known, yet now when it comes to be considered, that the Crown in Return gives up to the Publick all Forfeitures and Seizures, this Objection can be of little Weight: But surely this could never have been thought a sufficient Objection for the Legislature to refuse a Remedy against the known Frauds, practised in the Collection of the publick Revenues, on account of its preventing those practised against the Crown; especially, when even this Improvement of the King's Income is no more than what was, in Effect, granted by the Parliament, when they appropriated the Produce of those Duties to his Majesty for Life.
'But since it is said, that this Alteration in the Method of collecting the Duty on Tobacco will be such an Augmentation to the Revenue, though no new Tax be laid on, nor an Addition made to any one now in Being, it may be asked, From whence this Augmentation will arise? To this the bare Enumeration of the several Frauds, at present practised in the Collection of this Duty, would be a sufficient Answer; especially, if we consider the large Sum, which the Frauds that have actually been discovered yearly amount to, and that it cannot be supposed, that one fifth Part of the Frauds, which have really been committed have ever come to the Knowledge of the Publick, or of those intrusted with the Collecting of this Duty: But as the honourable Gentleman, who opened the Debate in the Committee, has so fully and so demonstrably shewn the Particulars of these unlawful Transactions; and as there are in this House so many Gentlemen, throughly acquainted with the Course of the publick Revenues, who can speak more minutely to the Nature of these Frauds than I am capable of doing, I shall not enter into a Detail of them; but only take Notice, that there have been some Instances, where a tripple Fraud has been committed in the Disposal of the same individual Parcel of Tobacco; he, indeed, who practises this Method, must be very adroit in the Business of Smuggling, but it is certain it has been practised: The unfair Trader has contrived to receive the full Duty twice from the Publick, without having ever paid it once to the Publick; he has received from the Government the Drawbacks upon a Quantity of Tobacco, which he found Means to import without paying any Duty; and by again running the same Tobacco from Holland in small Parcels, he has a second Time received the Drawbacks from the Consumers, by selling it to them as if the Duties had been honestly paid; and the Difficulty to prevent this Kind of Frauds, as there is but one Check in the Customs, is almost insurmountable; since, in some Cases, the unfair Dealer in Tobacco may very well afford to give such Bribes to the Custom-house Officer, as will even more than compensate to him the Loss of his Place, if he should be discovered.
'So that in this Light, the Parties in this Contest are, the Publick, the Planter, and the fair Trader on one Side; and the unfair Dealer only on the other. It is a Duty the Nation pays; the Planter and the fair Trader feel the Inconvenience of it, but the Benefit is intercepted by the fraudulent Dealer; and in this View your Landed Consumers of Tobacco have doubly paid the Duty; they have paid it once by buying the Tobacco at an advanced Price, as if the Duty had been paid by the Seller; and again by a future Call upon them by the Legislature, to make good the Deficiency occasioned by the Frauds of the Sellers; so that by this Method of Taxation, a Duty has been laid on one Subject, which another has by Artifice not only prevented coming into the publick Purse, but has converted towards the supporting or enriching of himself.
'But there is another Reason, which will have the greatest Weight with me, for coming into this Proposition, and that is, because I think, that in its Consequences, the Landholders of Great Britain will find a considerable Relief. As long as I can remember, I have always heard the Land-Tax complain'd of, as one of the most unequal and most grievous of our Taxes; unequal, as it is only paid by a Part of those who possess Property in Great Britain, and so great a Disproportion is there in this Particular, that as our Property is now divided, I believe one may say, the Money arising by this Tax, is paid only by five out of six of those who possess the Riches of this Nation; and it has hitherto been the more grievous, as there was no Prospect that any one of this Generation, would have been relieved from the Burthen of it. From Land alone, 64 Millions and a Half have been raised since the Revolution, and an Estate of 1000£. a Year, fully cess'd since that Time, has paid 6450£. which Sum amounts to near one fixth Part of the whole Produce of such an Estate in that Time; so that by taking it at an Average, the Landholders of these Estates thus cess'd, have paid very near a sixth Part of the gross Produce of their Estates for 44 Years successively, which bears no manner of Proportion to what has been paid by any other Set of Men, towards defraying the Charges of the Government since that Time. This has always been most justly reputed a Grievance upon the Landholders, yet now when a Scheme is offer'd, which, as it appears to me, would be a certain Relief to the Landed Interest, a new Language, a new Opinion has started up, and prevails, at least without Doors, that the Lands of Great Britain should still continue to carry that Burthen, which, till very lately, all Mankind were unanimous, they ought to be relieved from.
'If some Gentlemen may think there can be any material Weight thrown into the Scale of the Crown, by the Addition of a few Excise-Officers, let them on the other Side reflect on the Relief given by this Scheme to the Landholders of Great Britain, who always have been, and ever must be, in Time of Trial and Necessity, the real and solid Support of the Liberties of the Nation.
'And as the Landed Interest must be allowed to be our principal Strength, all Attempts to invade our Liberties must prove unsuccessful, while the Gentlemen of Landed Estates shall continue resolute, and retain sufficient Force to oppose any arbitrary Designs: Any Thing therefore, that tends to put them upon a better Footing, and to encrease their Substance, strengthens our Constitution in the most essential Part; for this Reason, when the Ease that will be given to Landholders is in this View impartially consider'd, the Addition of a few Excisemen, with Salaries of 40 or 50£. a Year each, will not have that Weight in this Day's Debate, which at first Sight it might seem to carry with it.
'Sir, I have mention'd the Advantages which, as it appears to me, will naturally arise to the Publick Revenue, to the fair Trader, to the industrious Planter, and to the Landholder by this Scheme; and I think there is another Benefit attending it, which Gentlemen do not seem to give sufficient Attention to, I mean the Reformation that will be made on this Occasion in the Laws of Excise; for tho' the Extention of them, as they now stand, might have been thought by some a strong Objection to this Scheme, however beneficial in other Respects it might prove to the Publick, yet I think the Weight of this Objection is greatly removed, when we consider, that the Alteration now proposed will take away many of those Powers, which might in Time to come have been abused to the Oppression of the Subject. One of the most material Objections I ever heard started was, the Want of a proper Appeal from the Determination of the Commissioners of Excise; but this, I think, is entirely obviated by the allowing of an Appeal from those Gentlemen to three Judges, chosen from the different Courts in Westminster-Hall; or from the Justices of Peace to the Judges of Assize in their respective Circuits; who are to determine in a summary Way, without either Delay or any considerable Expence to the Parties concern'd. Now whatever Influence the Nomination of these Officers by the Crown might have on their Actions, or however regardless their Power, being uncontrolable, might make them in their Determinations, this Check must prevent the Execution of their Intentions, were they inclined to abuse their Power in Favour of the Crown; it will certainly make them more cautious in giving Judgment, when they shall know, when they shall reflect, that their Judgments are liable to be canvassed in a superior Court, where no Favour, where no Interest can screen an ill Action: The Judges to whom the Appeal must be made have their Offices for Life, and therefore cannot reasonably be supposed to be byassed, so as to countenance any unlawful Steps of the Commissioners, let them be the Favourites of any Minister whatever, or let the Party oppress'd, let the Party complaining, be never so obnoxious to an Administration.
'There is also another Benefit that will attend the Success of this Scheme, which is the Repeal of an Act made in the 11th Year of the late King, which obliges People to accuse themselves: As this is certainly a very great Grievance, the Repeal must be a very agreeable Relief to those who are subject to it. I hope therefore, if this Question passes, when the Blanks in the Bill come to be filled up in the Committee, those Gentlemen, who may think that there are any unnecessary Clauses in the Laws of Excise, will take this favourable Opportunity to have those Laws review'd; and by the Addition of proper Clauses to the Bill now to be brought in, to extend the Regulations of them in Behalf of the Subject, as far as may not leave the Duties under the Management of the Commissioners open to gross Frauds.
'Upon the whole, I believe the Benefits proposed by this Scheme, by an Improvement of the publick Revenue in preventing Frauds, will be a certain Relief to the Landed Interest; and the only real Objection that ever could be to such a Design, was the Method by which it was to be effected: But that, I think, as I said before, is in a great measure removed, by the Mitigation of those Methods of proceeding in Excise-Laws, which seemed most to infringe the Liberties of the Subject, and which Alteration may, nay is designed to be extended to the other Branches of the Revenue, subject to the same Laws.
This Scheme therefore, as it is intended to be a Review of the Excise-Laws, and an Amendment of the Rigour of those Parts of them where less Severity would secure the Duty to the Publick, appears in this Light as much in Favour of the Subject as of the Revenue; and as such, when it comes to be rightly apprehended, and the Benefits attending it are felt and diffused through the whole Nation, I believe it will soon take a more favourable Turn among the People; the ill Impressions of it that may now be industriously spread abroad, I should think, would soon subside and be forgotten.
'I beg Pardon, Sir, for taking up so much more of your Time than I at first intended. I now only add, that since upon the Examination of the particular Merits of this Scheme, the Advantages proposed by it appear to me to be certain; and of such a Nature as not only to increase the publick Revenue, without any new Tax on the Subject or Addition to any one now in Being; to advance the Interest of our Trade and Plantations; and also at the same Time to raise the Value of the Lands of Great Britain, I shall therefore readily give my Assent to it.'
Sir T. Aston.
Sir Thomas Aston, Member for Leverpoole, spoke next against the Motion for agreeing with the Committee, and took Notice, 'That it was his Misfortune to know too much of the Influence, that the Officers of the Customs and Excise had at Elections; for at his own Election there were many of the Voters were so free and open, as to come to him and tell him that they would vote for him rather than any other, but that those Officers had threatued to ruin them if they did; and others told him, that they had Promises either for themselves or their Sons to be made Officers in the Customs or Excise by his Antagonist and as their Bread depended upon getting those Promises fulsilled, which they could not expect if they did not vote against him, therefore they hoped he would excuse them: That as he knew the Evil of this illegal Influence by Experience, therefore he should always be against any Measure, that might tend to encrease it, as this Scheme most evidently would: That he hop'd he should always disdain to owe the Honour of representing his Country in Parliament to any Administration whatever: That he hop'd he should always depend upon the free Votes of his Fellow-Subjects; and for that Reason he must be against what he thought would destroy that Freedom, upon which only he was resolv'd always to depend.'
'I must say, that the recommending the Care of the publick Revenue to this House, the recommending to us a Scheme which may, any Way, tend to the increasing of it, are Doctrines, which come very properly from the honourable Gentleman that spoke last, who for several Years has had the fingering of the publick Money, as he himself was pleased to express it: But I hope those Gentlemen will consider, that they and their Posterity are not all to enjoy the same Posts they enjoy at present; they may perhaps expect that they themselves are all in for Life, but they cannot imagine that those Posts are to go by Way of Inheritance to their Heirs; and therefore I hope, that for the sake at least of their Posterity, they will consider a little the Power and Influence that this Scheme will give to the Crown; and such a Consideration must certainly be of some Weight in the present Debate, even with those Gentlemen.
'It is certain, that the Liberties of this Country depend upon the Freedom of our Elections for Members of Parliament; our Parliaments, especially the Representatives of the People in Parliament assembled, are designed for, and generally have been a Check upon those, who were employed in the executive Part of our Government: But if it shall ever come to be in the Power of the Crown, that is to say, of those employed in the executive Part of our Government, to have such an Influence over most of the Elections in the Kingdom, as to get any Person chosen they please to recommend, they will then always have a Majority of their own Creatures in every House of Commons, and from such Representatives what can the People expect? Can it be expected, that such a House of Commons will ever be any Check upon those in Power, or that they will find Fault with the Conduct of the most rapacious, the most tyrannical Ministers, that may hereafter be employed by the Crown.
'It is well known, that every one of the publick Offices have already so many Boroughs or Corporations, which they look on as their Properties; there are some Boroughs which may be called Treasury-Boroughs; there are others which may be called Admiralty-Boroughs; in short, it may be said, that almost the whole Towns upon the Sea-Coast are already seiz'd on, and in a Manner taken Prisoners by the Officers of the Crown: In most of them they have so great an Influence, that none can be chosen Members of Parliament but such as they are pleased to recommend. But as the Customs are confined to our Sea-Ports, as they cannot travel far from the Coast, therefore this Scheme seems to be contrived in order to extend the Laws of Excise, and thereby to extend the Influence of the Crown over all the Inland Towns and Corporations in England.
'This seems plainly to me to be the chief Design of the Scheme now under our Consideration; and if it succeeds, which God forbid it should, our future Ministers of State will be very much obliged to the Gentleman who projected it; the Election of a House of Commons will in all Time to come be an easy Task; for whoever shall be Prime Minister under any of our future Kings may fit at home in his great Chair, and issue forth his Orders to most of the Counties and Boroughs in Great Britain, to chuse such Persons for their Representatives in Parliament, as he shall please to think most proper for his Purpose. Most of the chief Clerks of the Treasury, and other great Offices, are already Members of this House; they deserve it, they are Gentlemen, and Men of Figure and Fortune in their Country: But if this Scheme takes, Place, we may in a little Time see all the little Under-Clerks of the Treasury, and other Offices, Members of this House; we may see them trudging down to this House in the Morning, in order to give their Votes for imposing Taxes upon their Fellow-Subjects; and in the Afternoon attending behind the Chair of a Chancellor of the Exchequer, a Secretary of State, or other chief Minister: Nay, I do not know but some of us may live to see some vain over-grown Minister of State driving along the Streets, with fix Members of Parliament behind his Coach.
'These must be the fatal Consequences of the Scheme now under our Consideration; and therefore I must think that every Man, who has a Regard to the Constitution of his Country, or to the Liberties and Properties of those that have put their Trust in him, is in Duty bound to give his Negative to the present Question.
'Gentlemen may indulge themselves in the vain Conceit, that by this Scheme all Manner of Frauds in the TobaccoTrade will be prevented for the future, but the Thing is in its own Nature impossible; when the Duties are so high, where they amount to five or six Times the Prime Cost of the Commodity on which they are laid, it will be impossible to prevent all Manner of Frauds; and therefore the Increase of the publick Revenue by this Scheme, is so far from being certain, that it is altogether precarious; and unless the publick Revenue be thereby greatly increased, the Landholders can expect no Relief: But granting that the Benefits expected by this Scheme were certain; it is as certain, it is as demonstrable, that our Constitution will be thereby destroyed; and are we to make a Sacrifice of our Constitution, for the poor Consideration of adding 4 or 500,000£. a Year to the publick Revenue? That Increase may soon be dissipated by an Administration under no Fears of being called to an Account by Parliament; and then they will be obliged to come upon the Landholders for Money, to answer the necessary Services of the Publick. There never was in any Country a Scheme set up for introducing arbitrary Power, but what was supported by some specious Pretences: The preventing of Mobs, Insurrections, Invasions, Frauds, or the like, have in all Countries been made the Pretences for introducing arbitrary Power: But in such an Assembly as this, where the Principles of Liberty so much prevail, where there are so many Gentlemen of good Sense and Penetration, I hope no such Pretence will ever be of any Weight. To me it appears indisputable, that this Scheme is absolutely inconsistent with a free Election of Members of Parliament, and of Consequence it must be inconsistent with our Constitution; therefore though the Advantages to be reaped from it were much greater, and much more certain than they are, I should be most heartily against it, and for that Reason I must give my Negative to the present Question.'
Mr Wal. Plumer declares that he oppos'd the Excise upon Coffee, Tea. and Chocolate, Anno 10. Geo. I.
After some few Altercations between Sir Robert Walpole and Mr Pulteney, Mr Walter Plumer stood up, and took Notice of some Gentleman's having said, 'That no Body had opposed the subjecting of Coffee, Tea, and Chocolate, to the Laws of Excise, but the Gentleman under the Gallery [Meaning Sir John Barnard'] And he thereupon added, 'That he must put those Gentlemen in Mind, that he had then the Honour to be a Member of the House; That he thank'd God, he did oppose that Excise-Scheme as well as this; and that he would oppose every such Scheme that should ever be offered to the House, while he had the Honour of sitting in it: That he knew how grievous and oppressive the Laws of Excise were to his Fellow-Subjects; and therefore he could not answer it to his Country, if he did not, to the utmost of his Power, oppose every Scheme offered for the Extension of those vexatious and arbitrary Laws.'
The Resolutions of the Committee, relating to the Excise on Tobacco, agreed to by the House.
After this the Question was put upon the first Resolution, and carried in the Affirmative by 249 against 189. Then the Questions were severally put upon the second and third Resolutions, which were agreed to without any Division; and the fourth Resolution being read a second Time, Sir Robert Walpole inform'd the House, 'That the King had commanded him to acquaint the House, that his Majesty gave his Consent, that the House should do as they should think fit, in relation to the said Fines, Penalties, Forfeitures, and Seizures. Hereupon the Question was put, and this last Resolution likewise was agreed to without any Division.
And a Bill order'd accordingly.
Then it was ordered that a Bill should be brought in, pursuant to the said Resolutions; and that Sir Charles Turner, Sir Robert Walpole, Sir Philip Yorke, Mr Talbot, Mr Doddington, Mr Clayton, Sir William Yonge, Sir George Oxenden, Mr Scrope, and Mr Edward Walpole should prepare and bring in the same.
Motion for impowering the Commissioners of the Land-Tax to appoints the Receivers thereof. ; Debate thereon.
April 2. The House, in a Grand Committee, consider'd farther of the Land-Tax Bill, for the Service of the Year 1733, and a Motion was made, That it should be an Instruction to the said Committee, that they should be impowered to receive a Clause to enable and direct the several Commissioners, to be appointed in the said Bill for putting the same in Execution, to nominate and appoint a Receiver or Receivers General for each County, Riding, City, Borough, Cinque-Port, Town or Place respectively, within England, Wales, and Berwick, for which they were appointed Commissioners; and to make the said respective Counties, Ridings, Cities, Boroughs, Cinque-Ports, Towns or Places, for which they were appointed Commissioners, answerable for any Deficiency that might happen by such Receiver or Receivers.' It was urged, in Favour of this Motion, 'That the Commissioners in each County, were much better Judges of the Persons proper to be appointed Receivers in the several Counties, &c, than the Gentlemen employed in the Administration: That they were also better Judges of the Persons offered as Sureties for such Receivers: And that it would be a great Advantage to the Publick, which had often suffer'd by the Insolvency, of such Receivers, and the Insufficiency of the Security that had been given for them. However, the Courtiers opposed this Motion very strenuously; and the Question being put, it passed in the Negative.
The Bill for excising Tobacco read the first Time, and after Debate order'd to be read a second Time.
April 4. The Excise-Bill was brought in, and read a first Time; after which Sir Robert Walpole, by his Majesty's Command, acquainted the House, That his Majesty consented to their making such Alterations as they should think fit for the publick Service, in relation to the Subsidy on Tobacco then payable on account of his Majesty's Civil List. Hereupon it was objected, That some Parts of the said Bill were not within the Resolutions of the House, pursuant to which the said Bill had been ordered to be brought in; and therefore it was moved, That the Bill should be withdrawn: But this passed in the Negative, by 232 Votes against 176: Then a Motion was made for adjourning, which likewise passed in the Negative: But at last it was resolved, That the Bill should be read a second Time on the 11th Instant, by 236 against 200.
Motion for Printing it.
April 5. A Motion was made for Printing such a Number of Copies of the said Bill, as should be sufficient for the Use of the Members of the House: But upon the Question's being put, it was carried in the Negative by 128 against 112
The City of London petition against the said Bill.
April 10. The Lord Mayor, Aldermen, and CommonCouncil of the City of London, presented a Petition against the Excise-Bill, setting forth, 'That the Petitioners, on occasion of the Bill depending in this House, for repealing several Subsidies and an Impost now payable on Tobacco of the British Plantations, and granting an Inland Duty in lieu thereof, presume in all Humility to express to this House, as they have already done in some Measure by their Representation to their Members, the universal Sense of the City of London concerning any farther Extension of the Laws of Excise: That the Burthen of Taxes already imposed on every Branch of Trade, however chearfully born, is severely felt; but the Petitioners apprehend, that this Burthen will grow too heavy to be born, if it be increased by such vexatious and oppressive Methods of levying and collecting the Duties, as they are assured by melancholy Experience, that the Nature of all Excises must necessarily produce: That the Merchants, Tradesmen, and Manufacturers of this Kingdom, have supported themselves under the Pressure of the ExciseLaws now in Force, by the comfortable and reasonable Expectation, that Laws, which nothing but publick Necessity could be a Motive to enact, would be repealed in Favour of the Trade of the Nation, and of the Liberty of the Subject, whenever that Motive should be removed; as the Petitioners, presume it effectually is, by undisturb'd Tranquility at Home, and a general Peace so firmly establish'd Abroad: That if this Expectation be entirely taken away; if the Excise-Laws, instead of being repealed, are extended to other Species of Merchandize not yet excised; and a Door open'd for extending them to all; the Petitioners cannot, in Justice to themselves, to the Merchants, Tradesmen, and Manufacturers of the whole Kingdom, and to the general Interest of their Country, conceal their Apprehension, that the most fatal Blow, which was ever given, will be given on this Occasion, to the Trade and Navigation of Great Britain: That that great Spring, from which the Wealth and Prosperity of the Publick flows, will be obstructed, and the Mercantile Part of the Nation become not only less able to trade to Advantage, but unwilling to trade at all; since no Person, who can enjoy all the Privileges of a British Subject out of Trade, even with a small Fortune, will voluntarily renounce some of the most valuable of those Privileges, by subjecting himself to the Laws of Excise: That the Petitioners are able to shew, that these their Apprehensions are founded both in Experience and in Reason; and therefore praying, that the House will be pleased to hear them by their Counsel against the said Bill.'
Sir John Barnard moves for allowing Counsel to the City of London, in Favour of their Petition. ; Debate thereon. ; The Motion for allowing Counsel to the City of London, on the Behalf of their Petition against the Excise-Bill, passes in the Negatives and the same is ordered to lie on the Table as are likewise Petitions from Nottingham and Coventry.
This Petition being brought up and read at the Table, Sir John Barnard immediately rose up, and shewed how much the City and Citizens of London, as well as all the other trading Part of the Nation, would be affected by the Bill for altering the Method of raising the Duties payable upon Tobacco, and how just Reasons they had to insist upon being heard by their Counsel against it; and concluded with a Motion for granting them Leave to be heard by their Counsel, if they thought fit. In Opposition to this Motion, Sir Robert Walpole, Mr Horatio Walpole, Mr Winnington, Mr Talbot, Sir Philip Yorke, Sir William Yonge, and Mr Henry Pelham, insisted, 'That it had always been the Practice of the House, never to receive any Petitions, and much less to admit Counsel to be heard, against any Bill for imposing Taxes upon the Subject; for that if any such Thing were to be admitted, it would be impossible ever to pass any such Bill, because there would be so many different Petitions presented against it, by those who were to be subject thereto, that it would be impossible to hear Counsel separately upon every such Petition, within the usual Time of the Continuance of one Session of Parliament: And that in refusing to admit Counsel to be heard, there could be no Inconvenience, because every Man, and every Body of Men, had their Representatives in that House, who certainly would represent their Case to the House, if any particular Hardship was to be put upon them by any Bill then before the House.' In Answer to this, Mr Sandys, Mr Gibbon, Mr Bootle, Mr Pulteney, Sir William Wyndham, Mr Walter Plumer, Mr Heathcote, and Mr Wyndham replied, 'That the House had never pretended to any general Custom of refusing Petitions, except against those Bills which were called Money Bills, that was to say, such Bills as were brought in for raising Money for the current Service of the Year; and that even as to them there were many Precedents, where the House had admitted the Parties, whom they thought to have a real Interest therein, to be heard by their Counsel against the passing of such Bills: That the admitting of Counsel even in such Cases could never prevent the passing of such Bills, because the House could always order all Parties petitioning to be heard at one Tim, and could give such Directions, that it would never take up many Days to hear every Thing, that could be objected by every one of the Parties petitioning: That tho' every Part of the Nation had their Representatives in that House, yet it was well known, that speaking in Publick was a Talent that every Man was not endowed with, [See Vol. I. p. 244.] from whence it might happen, that the particular Persons, or Part of the Nation, to be aggrieved by what was passing in the House, might not have any such Members as were proper to lay their Case fully and clearly before the House; and that therefore, even as to Money-Bills, it was proper to admit Parties to be heard against them, when it appeared that they were very particularly interested therein: And that as to the Case then before them, there was not the least Pretence for refusing the Desire of the Petition, because the Bill, against which it was presented, was no Money-Bill; for it was granted by the Advocates for the Bill; it was even insisted on as the greatest Argument for it, that there were no new Duties to be imposed; that it was a Bill only for altering the Method of collecting the Taxes already imposed; and therefore it could never be pretended, that there was any Practice or Custom of the House for refusing to admit Parties interested to be heard against such-a Bill: That if there had been such a Custom introduced, it ought not to be observed, especially when such a considerable Body, as the Lord Mayor, Aldermen, and Common Council of the City of London, come with an humble Petition to be heard against a Bill, which they thought would not only be highly injurious to them in particular, but destructive of the Trade and Commerce of the whole Nation.'
In this Debate there were many Precedents brought by Mr Sandys, Mr Gibbon, and Mr Bootle, where the House had receiv'd Petitions, and admitted Counsel to be heard against Money-Bills: There were likewise Precedents brought by Sir William Yonge, and Mr Winnington, where the same had been refused. Then the Question being put, for allowing the Petitioners to be heard by their Counsel against the Bill, it was carried in the Negative, by 214 against 197. After which it was ordered that the said Petition should lie upon the Table, until the said Bill should be read a second Time.
April 11. A Petition of the Mayor, Aldermen, and Common Council of the Town of Nottingham, against the Excise-Bill, was presented to the House and read, which was also ordered to lie upon the Table: After this a Petition of the City of Coventry was presented to the House and read, which was likewise order'd to lie on the Table.
Sir Robert Walpole moves for putting off, for two Months, the second Reading of the Bill for excising Tobacco; which after some Debate, is agreed to.
Then the Order of the Day being read for the second Reading of the said Bill, the Serjeant at Arms was order'd to go into the Court of Requests and the other usual Places, and summon the Members there to attend the Service of the House; and he being returned, instead of reading the Bill a second Time, a Motion was made by Sir Robert Walpole, that the said Bill should be read a secoud Time upon the 12th of June: Tho', by this Motion, it evidently appeared that the Bill was design'd to be dropt; yet some Members, who had from the Beginning appeared strenuously against it, were for having it rejected: But this Proposition did not come to a Question, so that the first Motion was agreed to without Opposition.
Complaint made to the House by saveral Members, who had voted for the Excise-Bill, of their being insulted by the Populace.
April 12. Complaint was made to the House by several Members, who had voted in Favour of the Excise-Bill, that a tumultuous Crowd of People had been assembled together the Night before, and several Days during the Session, in the Court of Requests, and other Avenues to the House; and that they themselves and several other Members of the House had been, in their Return from the House, menaced, insulted, and assaulted, by a tumultuous Crowd of People in most of the Passages to the House: Hereupon it was resolved Nem. Con. I. That the assaulting, insulting, or menacing any Member of the House, in coming to or going from the House, or upon the account of his Behaviour in Parliament, was a high Infringement of the Privilege of the House; a most outrageous and dangerous Violation of the Rights of Parliament; and a high Crime and Misdemeanor. II. That the assembling and coming of any Number of Persons in a riotous, tumultuous, and disorderly Manner to the House, in order either to hinder or promote the passing of any Bill, or other Matter depending before the House, was a high Infringement of the Privilege of the House; destructive of the Freedom and Constitution of Parliament; and a high Crime and Misdemeanor. III. That the inciting and encouraging any Number of Persons to come in a riotous, tumultuous, and disorderly Manner to the House, in order either to hinder or promote the passing of any Bill or other Matter depending before the House, was a high Infringement of the Privilege of the House; destructive of the Freedom and Constitution of Parliament ; and a high Crime and Misdemeanor.
Several Orders made thereupon.
Then it was ordered, I. That the Members for the City of London, should signify the said Resolutions to the Lord Mayor. II. That the Members for the County of Middlesex, should signify the said Resolutions to the Sheriff of Middlesex. III. That the Members for Westminster, should signify the said Resolutions to the High Bailiff of Westminster.
The Scheme for subjecting the Wine-Trade to the Laws of Excise being put off likewise for two Months, is intirely drop'd.
April 13. This being the Day appointed for the House to resolve itself into a Committee of the whole House, to consider farther of the most proper Methods for the better Security and Improvement of the Duties and Revenues, then charged on and made payable from Tobacco and Wines, a Motion was made, for the House to resolve itself into the said Committee, on the 14th of June; and the Question being put on the said Motion, it was resolv'd in the Affirmative, by 118 against 76. By this Resolution, that Part of the ExciseScheme, which related to the Duties on Wines, was entirely laid aside.
The House resolve, That a Committee of 21 Members he appointed to inquire into the Frauds of the Customs.
April 19. Upon the Motion of Mr Perry, the House resolv'd, Nem. Con. That a Committee be appointed to inquire into the Frauds and Abuses in the Customs: Then it was farther resolv'd, That the Number of the said Committee be Twenty-one, to be chosen by Balloting.
A Petition from the Dealers in Coffee, Tea, and Chocolate, against the Excise Laws, relating to those Commodities. ; A Motion being made that the said Petition be referred to a Committee of the whole House, it passes in the Negative.
April 20. A Petition of the Druggists, Grocers, and others dealing in Coffee, Tea, and Chocolate, was presented to the House, and read; setting forth, 'That by an Act of the 10th Year of King George I. intitled, An Act for repealing the Duties therein mentioned, payable upon Coffee, &c. imported, and for granting certain Inland Duties in lieu thereof, &c. the Petitioners were made to hope, that the Duties arising from the said Commodities would be better secured, and the Interest of the fair Trader better supported: But that the Petitioners had found themselves, from fatal Experience, subjected to Laws most oppressive and injurious to Trade; were deprived of the Privilege of Juries; subjected to the judicial Determination of Commissioners, and to the Inquisition and Inspection of Persons unknown to them, who entered their Houses at Pleasure, and to whom they were made accountable for all their Dealings; and after having paid Duty for their Goods, had not Liberty to sell the same without Permits from the Officers of Excise, expressing the Names and Places of Abode of the Buyers and Sellers; to the great Damage of the Petitioners, and the exposing the Extent and Circumstances of their Trade to the said Officers, and to whomsoever they thought fit to communicate the same; were subject to severe Forfeitures for Errors or Neglect of Entries in their Books, which were absolutely unavoidable; and were moreover, by a Clause in an Act of the 11th of King George I. liable to be examined upon Oath touching the Entries in their Books, and in Case of Neglect or Refusal were subject to heavy Fines: That by these Grievances the Petitioners, as they conceived, were in a worse Condition than any of his Majesty's Subjects; and that the clandestine Importation of Tea was never at a greater Height than at the present Time, to the Prejudice of the Revenue, and the Ruin of the fair Traders, who only were subject to those oppressive Laws; therefore praying that the House would give them such Relief, as to their great Wisdom should seem meet.' Then a Motion being made, and the Question put, That the Petition be referred to a Committee of the whole House; it passed in the Negative, by 250 against 150.
Names of the Committee appointed to inquire into the Frauds of the Customs.
April 25. The Lord Vere Beauclerk reported the Names of the Committee, appointed to inquire into the Frauds and Abuses in the Customs, viz. Sir John Cope, Bart. Mr Clutterbuck, Sir William Clayton, Bart. Mr Stephen Fox, Mr Edgcombe, Hon. Mr Henry Pelham, Sir John Heathcote, Bart. Sir Philip Yorke, Mr Clayton, Hon. Mr Anthony Lowther, Sir George Oxenden, Bart. Mr Talbot, Gen. Wade, Mr Campbell of Pembrokeshire, Mr Duncan Forbes, Sir Tho. Frankland, Bart. Mr Winnington, Lord Hervey, Mr Doddington, Mr Horatio Walpole, and Sir William Yonge, Bart, every one of whom had voted for the Excise-Scheme: But there having been two principal Lists prepar'd on this Occasion, the Reader will find the Names of those Members who were propos'd on the contrary Side, with the Number of Votes for each List, in the APPENDIX.
Motion for an Account of the Money rais'd on the Estates of the South Sea Directors Anno 1720.
April 27. A Motion was made, That the Directors of the South-Sea Company should lay before the House, an Account of what Sums of Money, South-Sea Stock, and South-Sea Annuities had been received from the Trustees, for raising Money on the Estates of the late Directors of the South-Sea Company and others; distinguishing the Time of such Receipts, and the Application thereof, with all the Orders and Directions of the General Courts of the said Company, relating to the Disposition thereof. But the Question being put, it pass'd in the Negative.