The History and Proceedings of the House of Commons: Volume 8, 1733-1734. Originally published by Chandler, London, 1742.
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Sir J. Barnard presents a Petition from the Dealers in Tea, for Relief against the Excise Laws. ; Sir John Barnard's Speech in behalf of the said Petition.
February 4. A Petition of the Druggists, and others dealing in Tea, was presented to the House, and read; alledging, that by an Act passed in the 10th Year of King George I the Petitioners were induced to hope, that the Duty arising from Tea would be better secured to his Majesty, and the Interest of the fair Trader be better supported, but have fatally experienced the contrary Effects; the clandestine Importation of Tea being greatly increased, to the Damage of the publick Revenue, and Ruin of the fair Trader, occasioned by the great Difference of the Value of that Commodity at this and foreign Markets, whereby the Smugglers are enabled to purchase it Abroad for less than half the Duty paid here: That the Regulations which the Petitioners are laid under, are most burthensome and grievous, their Houses being liable to be entered by Persons unknown to them, and their Properties subjected to the judicial Determination of Commissioners: That the Petitioners are liable to severe Penalties for Errors and Omissions absolutely unavoidable, and restrained from disposing of their Goods, after having paid Duty for the same, without Permits from the Officer of the Inland Duties, expressing the Names and Places of Abode of the Respective Buyers and Sellers, exposing thereby the Extent and Circumstances of their Trade; whereby the Petitioners conceived they were in a worse Condition than any other of his Majesty's Subjects, and therefore praying the House to take the Premisses into Consideration, and give them such Relief as to the House should seem meet.' This Petition was presented by Sir John Barnard, who spoke in Favour of the same as follows:
'As this Petition is the same with that presented to this House last Session, I need not take up much of your Time in opening it to the House. The Petitioners apprehend they labour under very great Grievances, by their being subject to the Laws of Excise; and as this House, in the very last Session of Parliament, thought it unreasonable to subject some other Sorts of Traders and Dealers to those oppressive Laws, the Petitioners think they have Reason from thence to conclude, that this House will be ready to relieve them from those Burdens.
'The chief Objection made to the Petition last Year was, that it was signed only by a few, and those not the most considerable Dealers in that Commodity, but now this Objection is intirely removed; for I am sure there is not a considerable Dealer within the City of London, who has not signed this Petition. The great Frauds committed in the running of Tea, which are daily increasing, are now become a very great and a general Grievance, not only with respect to the Publick, but to the fair Trader: It is impossible for a Man, who honestly pays the heavy Duties upon the Commodity he deals in, to sell so cheap as the Smuggler may do, therefore, if some Stop is not speedily put to that infamous Practice, we may expect in a few Years the whole Trade of the Kingdom, so far as relates to our Home-Consumption, will be got into the Hands of Smugglers only, and the Retailers who buy from them. It was expected that the Alteration, made some Years ago in the Method of collecting those Duties, would have prevented this infamous Practice: When that Project was first set on foot, I remember, some People assured us, it would entirely put an End to Smuggling; but Experience has taught us the contrary; for since that Alteration it has been much more general than before; so that we have subjected a great Number of our Fellow-Subjects to infinite Hardships, without gaining thereby any Benefit to the Publick.
'As this Practice of Smuggling, which has of late so much increased, must be likewise a considerable Detriment to the publick Revenue, the Petitioners hope we shall take the Affair again under our Consideration, and endeavour to contrive some Methods for preventing this infamous Practice for the future: If then the Relief of a great Number of our Fellow-Subjects from Grievances they justly complain of, if the Encouragement of the fair Trader, if the Increasing of the publick Revenue, are Considerations which ought to weigh with a British Parliament, I am sure the Case now before us, in which all three are joined, deserves the utmost Regard of this House; therefore I cannot doubt of the Petition's being referred to a Committee. And when we go into that Committee, several Gentlemen will offer their Opinions, and propose Expedients for the Relief of the Petitioners, as well as for the Advantage of the Revenue: But as these Things can't properly come now under our Consideration, I shall not give the House any farther Trouble at present, but only to move, That the Petition may be referred to the Consideration of a Committee of the whole House.
Mr Perry. ; Mr Winnington.
The above Motion being seconded by Mr Perry, Mr Winnington stood up and spoke as follows:
'I can by no Means agree with the two honourable Gentlemen in the Motion they have made. The Relieving any of our Fellow-Subjects from Grievances they justly complain of, the Encouraging of the fair Trader, and the Increasing the publick Revenue, are Matters indeed of a very great Concern, and always deserve the utmost Attention of this House, when they are regularly and properly brought before us; but I cannot think that this Petition can properly bring either of them before us, nor can I think it is now a proper Time to go into a Committee upon this or any such Petition. There is nothing that can be proposed in consequence of this Petition, but what may diminish the publick Revenue, and as we are in a manner now just upon the Brink of a War, I think it would be very unwise in us to do any thing that may possibly diminish that Revenue, for which we may soon have so great an Occasion.
'As to the infamous Practice of Smuggling, and the Frauds committed in that Branch of the publick Revenue, which the Petition relates to, I believe, every Gentleman would willingly do something to prevent it, if possible; but the Method, proposed by this Petition, appears really to me in a very strange Light: It has been found, they say, that the Laws of Excise joined with the Laws of the Customs, have not been effectual for preventing all those Frauds; and therefore Gentlemen propose, that we should take off one of these Checks, and indeed, that which must be acknowledged to be the most effectual of the two, in order to prevent Running for the future. I need not say any thing to convince Gentlemen, that this Proposition cannot be supposed to tend to the Encouragement of the fair Trader, or to increase the publick Revenue: As to the Petitioners, if they are all fair Traders, they must acknowledge, it would be so far from giving them Relief, that it would intirely ruin them.
'I should be glad to hear any Thing proposed for the Benefit of the fair Trader, or Security of the publick Revenue: But for us to go into a Committee upon that Subject, when no Gentleman of this House can say that there is any particular Method or Scheme to be proposed, would be taking up the Time of the House to no Purpose. Besides, if there were really any Schemes to be proposed to us for putting an End to Frauds and Smuggling, it is not now a proper Time for us to enter into the Consideration of them; for as it is now the last Session of a Parliament, and considering the present Posture of Affairs of Europe, it must be presumed that the short Time we have to fit will be taken up in Matters of very great Weight, and which require a more immediate Consideration, there cannot be any great Inconvenience in putting off this Affair to another Session; and therefore I must be against the Motion now made, and shall move, That the Petition may be ordered to 'lie upon the Table.'
To this Mr Perry reply'd,
'When this Motion was made by my honourable and worthy Friend, I did not apprehend it would have met with any Opposition; therefore I gave the House no other Trouble than just to second the Motion: But now I hope I shall be indulged a few Words in Support of it. It has always been my Opinion, that while we fit here, no Time can be improper for our taking into our Consideration a Petition signed by such a Number of considerable Traders: The Hearing of Complaints from the Subjects, and the Redressing of their Grievances, I have always understood to be a chief Part of the Business of Parliament; and I am sorry to hear it said in this House, that any Time is improper for such a Consideration, especially when it is not so much as pretended, that the Complaints are frivolous, or that the Petitioners are inconsiderable.
'The honourable Gentleman spoke of our being on the Brink of a War, and therefore thought it unwise for us to attempt to do any Thing that might lessen the publick Revenue: I believe no Gentleman in this House means to lessen the publick Revenue; the very End of the Motion now made is to endeavour something that may increase the publick Revenue, by preventing those Frauds by which it is greatly diminished. The Gentleman allows, that the Laws of Excise and Customs, when joined together, are ineffectual for preventing the running of Tea; but thinks it strange, that the taking off one of those Checks should be proposed as a Method for the preventing of running for the future, and it would be so if this were the only Method; but there may be some Method proposed, if we go into a Committee upon this Affair, which will render the Laws of the Customs singly more effectual against Smuggling than both the Laws of Excise and Customs have been: In such Case it will not appear strange to give a Relief to many of our distressed Countrymen, by freeing them from the oppressive Laws of Excise.
'If Gentlemen will examine this Affair a little, they will find, that by adding the Laws of Excise to the Laws of the Customs, they have neither given a Check to Smuggling, nor increased the publick Revenue, in Proportion as the Consumption of that Commodity has increased of late Years within this Kingdom. In 1716, the Duty upon Coffee and Tea amounted to but fixty odd thousand Pounds; From 1716 to 1724 that Duty continued subject only to the Laws of the Customs, and yet so greatly did our Consumption increase within that Time, that in the Year 1723 the Duty amounted to 112,000 l. near double the Sum in that seven Years which preceded the Alteration. This can be attributed only to the Increase of the Consumption, for it cannot be said, that the Custom-House Officers were more exact and diligent, or the Smugglers less skilled in the Arts of Deceit in that Year, than they had been in any of the former.
'In 1724, the famous Alteration now complained of was made: We cannot suppose the Consumption has since decreased; on the contrary, as Tea has been sold cheaper than ever it was before, we must suppose that the Consumption has greatly increased; and as by this Alteration the unfair Traders were entirely put out of all their old Arts of Smuggling, or at least of disposing of their run Goods, we must suppose the Duty increased, and accordingly it did so till the Year 1729; when it amounted to about 162,000 l. But by that Time the Smugglers began to learn new Arts of Deceit, and to contrive new Ways of defrauding the Publick; so that since the Year 1729, the Duty has been decreasing, and is now reduced to less than 120,000 l. per Annum. From hence it must appear, that the Publick has not gained much by the Alteration of the Method of Collection, which lies so heavy on all the Dealers in that Commodity.
'It is certain, that this Decrease in the publick Revenue since the Year 1729, cannot be owing to any Decrease in the Consumption of that Commodity; for it is of late Years sold so cheap, that the very meanest of the People make use of it. A poor Woman of my Neighbourhood, for whom I had some Time before procured twelve-pence per Week Charity, acknowledged to me, that she had Tea every Morning for her Breakfast, and said that, except Water, it was the cheapest Drink she could get; and therefore, as the Consumption must be much larger, and the Produce of the Duty very little superior now to what it it was in the Year 1723, we must conclude, the Alteration now complained of has rather increased than diminished Smuggling.
'The honourable Gentleman should not have said it was proposed to lessen the publick Revenue, or to take off any of those Checks which have been laid upon Smuggling; there has not been any Thing proposed, nor is it proper there should, until we go into the Committee moved for, which I have Reason to believe the House will agree to, because I have not yet heard any one Argument offer'd against it, but only of its not being now a proper Time. This indeed has been almost the only Argument made use of against most Things that have been proposed this Session, and I really believe we are to hear no other from that Quarter; but I must think, that it is a very unfair Way of treating any Proposition; and however such Arguments may prevail in this House, I am sure they will give but very little Satisfaction without Doors.'
Mr Perry was opposed by Sir William Yonge.
Sir W. Yonge.
'Notwithstanding what the honourable Gentleman who made the Motion, and the honourable Gentleman who spoke last have urged in Support of their Motion, I must agree with my honourable Friend on the Floor, that the present is not at all a proper Time, nor indeed are we any Way prepared for going into a Committee upon the Petition before us. I am surpriz'd to hear it pretended that no Argument has been offered against the Motion, but that of its not being a proper Time; have not Gentlemen been told, is it not well known that this is the last Session of a Parliament, which must always be pretty much hurried? And therefore it is not proper to bring before us an Affair of such a complicated Nature, and which will require so much Time to search throughly to the Bottom of the Wound, before we can so much as pretend to apply, or even to find out a proper Remedy.
'Does not every Man know, that the present Posture of Affairs in Europe may probably bring Matters of much greater Importance before us, Matters of the highest Consequence to the whole Nation? Shall we then take up the short Time we have to fit, in the Examination of Affairs relating to one small Branch of the Revenue, the delaying of which until another Session, can be of no signal Disadvantage to the Nation in general, or even to any private Man? We ought to be the more cautious of entering into the Examination of this Petition, because it may bring before us a great many such: Several Sorts of other Commodities are subject to the Laws of Excise; if we once enter upon giving Relief to the Petitioners, we may expect Petitions from the Dealers in all those other Commodities.
'The Gentleman who spoke last has, I find, been at the Pains to consider the Amount of the Duty upon Tea, for seven Years before and seven Years after the Alteration in the Method of collecting it; and I agree with him, that in this last Year the Produce amounted to no more than 120,000 l. But I must take Notice, that his Method of comparing the one with the other is neither fair nor just: He has, out of the Time before that Alteration was made, picked out the Year, when the Produce of that Duty amounted to the highest Sum that it ever did before the Alteration was made; and out of that Time since the Alteration was made, he has picked out that Year, when the Produce of that Duty was the lowest that it has been in any Year since.
'I appeal to every Gentleman that hears me, if the fair Way of stating this Matter is not, to compute the Amount of the Duty for seven Years before, in order to fix a Medium for that seven Years; and next to compute the Amount for seven Years after, in order to fix a Medium for that Time, and then to compare the Mediums together. According to this Method it will be found, that the publick Revenue has been increased above 34,000 l. per Annum. Besides this, the Gentleman forgot to mention Seizures, which in this Case ought to be taken Notice of, and added to the yearly Increase; by them it will be found there is an Addition of 20,000 l. a Year more made to the publick Revenue, which in the whole amounts to 54,000 l. a Year; an Increase, which I believe no Gentleman in this House will think inconsiderable; nor ought we to go rashly into the changing of that Method, by which this Increase has been made, especially when we are at least in Danger of being upon the Brink of a War, as has been hinted by my honourable Friend.
'I allow the Practice of running Tea is a Loss to the Publick, and an Injury to the fair Trader, and is come to a very great Heighth of late; but the Manner of carrying it on is very different from what it was. The Smugglers now travel 30 or 40 together, well armed and provided for a desperate Defenc; they carry their Goods from House to House, and actually murder the King's Officers: This dangerous Method they have been reduced to by the Laws of Excise, and will any Gentleman desire to have that Check removed, which has laid them under so great Difficulties?
'Gentlemen say, Arguments are not offered against what they propose, or at least only such as are general; but, I think, it has always been the Custom, when any thing new is offered, those who are for it give their Reasons, and if those Reasons cannot be sufficiently answered, the House then agrees with the Motion. Now I wish those Gentlemen would give us some particular Argument in Support of what they propose, agree upon some particular Facts, and then the Gentlemen, who seem to be of a contrary Opinion, would be able to debate the Question fairly with them; but since they have not been able to agree on any Facts, or to give us any particular Reasons for referring this Petition to a Committee, I must conclude that even they themselves are not prepared for taking it into Consideration; therefore I hope it will be ordered to lye on the Table.'
To this Mr Sandys replied:
'The honourable Gentleman, who spoke last, desired we might agree on particular Facts, and argue from those Facts. This would be a proper and a reasonable Demand, if we were now in a Committee upon the Petition; but as the only Question before us is, whether or no we shall go into a Committee, I cannot think, that it is either proper or reasonable. It is acknowledged, that the Practice of Smuggling is come to a very great Heighth, and I believe it will not be denied, but that all those who are subject to the Laws of Excise are under a great many Inconveniences, which their Fellow-Subjects not liable to such Laws are free from: This alone ought to be a sufficient Inducement for us to go into a Committee; for in most Cases Petitioners, who complain of Grievances, are to prove the Facts they alledge before the Committee; and Petitioners are generally referred to Committees upon Suggestions only of Grievances, which ought to be redressed; but the Case now before us is much stronger, the Facts alledg'd by the Petitioners are allowed to be true, and the Grievances complained of such as ought to be redressed; yet some Gentlemen are against so much as taking their Petition into Consideration. If this be treating our Fellow-Subjects as they ought to be, I leave to the whole World to judge; but, upon the presenting a Petition, and upon a Debate whether that Petition ought to be referred to a Committee, to desire Gentlemen to agree upon particular Facts, especially when the Facts must all be such as cannot be known to any but those in the Management of the publick Revenue, is really unreasonable: It is desiring Gentlemen to agree upon Facts which it is impossible for them to know, 'till they can in a proper Way have an Opportunity to inquire into them. If the House should agree to go into a Committee upon this Petition, I do not doubt but such Papers will be called for, as will make it appear by undeniable Matters of Fact, that not only the Petitioners ought to be relieved, but that something must be done for putting an End to the infamous Practice of Smuggling: So that our not being able at present to fix upon any particular Facts, is so far from being a Reason against, that it is a strong Reason for our referring this Petition to the Consideration of a Committee. The Petitioners have very just Grounds to hope this House will take off from them those Shackles, we most justly refused to put upon the Dealers in Wine and Tobacco: They have as good a Title to all the Liberties and Privileges of Englishmen as any other Subjects, and I can see no Reason for distinguishing them from the rest of their Countrymen. In the present Case Gentlemen need not be afraid of making a Precedent, and laying a Foundation for a great many Petitions; there are no Dealers in England followed by the Laws of Excise as the Dealers in Tea are, except only the Dealers in Brandy; therefore, the giving Ear to the heavy and just Complaints of the Petitioners, can lay no Foundation for a Multitude of Petitions being brought in upon us from the Dealers in other Commodities; for tho' there are other Commodities subject to the Laws of Excise, yet those go no farther than the first Manufacturer; they do not follow the Commodity into the little Shops and Cellars of every petty Retailer. Gentlemen tell us, that we are to have Matters of much greater Weight before us, which require a more immediate Consideration, and which will take up the whole of that short Time we have to be together. I know nothing of greater Weight than that of effectually securing the publick Revenue, encouraging the fair Trader, and relieving our Fellow-Subjects from the Grievances they labour under; and I wish the Gentlemen would inform the House, what it is they think a Matter of much greater Weight. I am sure, if we are upon the Brink of a War, it renders it much the more necessary for us to take the Petition into our Consideration: As the War can be supported only by the publick Revenue, if we are in such Danger, it is the more incumbent upon us to take all possible Methods to secure and increase that Revenue; and as in time of War the fair Trader labours under many Discouragements abroad, it will become the more necessary to take care that he shall labour under as few as possible at home; and if we are threat'ned with a War, it is the Business of this House, and of every Man who wishes well to the present Establishment, to be more diligent than usual in conciliating the Minds of the People to his Majesty's Government, which can only be done by removing their Grievances as soon as we hear them: Thus, every Argument that has been offered against going into a Committee, when duly considered, appears to be a strong Argument in Favour of the Motion; therefore, unless some more weighty Arguments be offered, I am persuaded the House will not reject it.'
Mr Philips Gibbon spoke next:
Mr. P. Gibbon.
'I stand up to agree with my worthy Friend, in the Motion he made for referring this Petition to a Committee of the whole House; and as I have not yet heard any one Argument against it, I shall not take up much of your Time. I have indeed heard Gentlemen argue against what they imagine may be proposed when we go into it, which to me seems a very preposterous Way of arguing; they first form to themselves hideous Notions of what is to be proposed in that Committee, and from thence they resolve to be against going into any such Committee. I would be as unwilling, as any Gentleman in this House, to do any thing at the present Juncture for lessening the publick Revenue, and I am far from believing any such Thing is intended to be proposed; yet if I did believe it, I should be willing to hear what Gentlemen had to say upon that Head, and therefore would not be against giving them an Opportunity, especially in a Case every Man allows to stand very much in Need of Redress.
'I am of Opinion, those Gentlemen who shew so very great a Concern for the Revenue, need not be so much afraid that the giving a proper Relief to the Petitioners would diminish the publick Revenue; for I believe when proper Papers and Accounts are called for, and the Matter fairly and fully examined, it will appear that the Revenue has been no great Gainer by the Alteration some Time ago made in the Method of collecting the Duty upon Tea: I believe it will then appear, that the Increase of the publick Revenue has not near kept Pace with the Increase of the Consumption; so that if those Gentlemen have really nothing else to fear but a Decrease of the publick Revenue, they need make no Difficulty of relieving the Petitioners. Gentlemen say, the Session is to be but short, and therefore we have not Time to enter into the Consideration of this Affair; upon which I must say, those who talk so, seem to have forgot one of the chief Ends of our Meeting here: The Usage of Parliament anciently was, to grant no Supplies till all Grievances were first redressed, but the Method seems now to be entirely altered: Gentlemen find Time enough to load the Nation with many and heavy Taxes, but can spare no Time, it seems, to relieve the People from any Burthen or Grievance they justly complain of. They who talk so, must certainly have much more Assurance than I am Master of: I wonder how, after such a Declaration, they can with Confidence look their Constituents in the Face, far less expect that they should again do them the Honour to send them hither. Those Gentlemen really talk of this House, as if they looked on it as a Register for Taxes, and as if we had nothing to do here but to grant to the Crown what Sums the Ministers should please to call for: I hope, we are not yet come to such a low Pass; I have still a better Opinion of this House than to believe, that you will reject a Motion so reasonable and so necessary.'
Then Mr Walter Plumer said,
'I am so sensible of the Grievances of the Petitioners, and the Necessity of doing something to put a Stop to that growing Evil of Smuggling, that I have been in Expectation of this Petition ever since the Session began. The Time I spent in the Country, during the last Recess of Parliament, happened to be where I had Occasion to see a great deal of that infamous Practice; so that if there was no other Motive for going into the Committee proposed, than that of endeavouring to do something to prevent Smuggling, that alone with me would be a prevailing Motive; and for that Reason I am surpriz'd to see the Motion opposed by any Gentleman; much more by those Gentlemen, who must know much more than I do of the great Increase and fatal Effects of this infamous Practice. In the County of Suffolk, the Smugglers went about in such formidable Bodies, that if something is not done to put a Stop to it, they may soon threaten Danger even to our Civil Government: I have often met them in Gangs of 40 or 50 together all so well mounted, that even the Dragoons could not come up with them; and they give such excessive Wages to the Men that will engage with them, that the Landed Interest suffers considerably by it: The common Price of a Day's Labour in that Country is already got up to 18d. and, even at that Price, it is with great Difficulty that the Farmers can get Labourers; and how can it be otherwise? For all the young clever Fellows of the County are employ'd by the Smugglers; from them they have half a Crown a Day while they wait upon the Sea-Coast for the landing of the Goods, and as soon as the Goods are landed, and they mount on Horseback to go about the Country to dispose of them, they have a Guinea a Day, and are well entertained during their Attendance: Thus they find a much easier and more profitable Employment than any they can have from the Farmer, and while they are thus employ'd, all Improvements of Land must remain in Suspence. Gentlemen may talk of the great Check put upon Smuggling, by the joining of the Laws of Excise to the Laws of the Customs, but they must allow that that Project, from which so much Benefit was expected, has proved altogether ineffectual; and I am afraid, that all other Methods will prove ineffectual, as long as the Duty is so high, and so much Advantage to be got by running. In that Part of the Country where I was, Tea is generally sold by Retailers in their Shops, at 5s. a Pound; and as we must suppose the Importer to have a Profit upon Importation, and as the Duty amounts to above 4s. 9d. a Pound, I leave Gentlemen to judge whether it is possible, to sell by Retail at 5s. per Pound any Tea, upon which the Duty has been honestly paid. It is easy to guess whence all this Tea comes; the Smugglers buy it in Holland, at 2s. per Pound, and from thence run it into this Country; the Dutch buy it in the East-Indies at 6d. per Pound, so that this Nation pays the Dutch 1s. 6d. per Pound for the Carriage. This must be a vast Loss to the Nation, and certainly so great an Advantage to Holland, that I am sure, if there were now a Dutch Minister in our Gallery, he would be extremely pleased to hear this Motion rejected; and would not fail to acquaint the States General, how much the Interest of Holland had, by some Gentlemen in a British House of Commons, been preferred to that of Great Britain. I am amazed to find that some Gentlemen do not see how much the Revenue suffers by the Practice of Smuggling, and tho' I do not expect that they should take any great Care of the Subject, yet I hope they will take some Care of the publick Revenue, since they have the singering and managing of it. Upon the whole, I must say, if we have any Regard for the Subjects in general, for the Trade of this Nation, for the publick Revenue, for the landed Interest, particularly the Tillage; we certainly must agree to go into this Committee; I am sure nothing more worthy of our Consideration can possibly come before us; therefore I shall be most heartily for the Question.'
Mr H. Pelham.
Then Mr Henry Pelham spoke against the Petition.
'I cannot say, indeed, with the Gentleman who spoke last, that I have been in daily Expectation of this Petition; on the contrary, I was in Hopes, as the Sense of this House had been taken upon it last Session, the Petitioners would have chosen a more proper Time for renewing their Request, than when we are upon the Brink of a War. Our Situation is at present such, that to do any Thing which might possibly lessen the publick Revenue, would be acting otherwise than this House ought to do; the presenting it at such a critical Juncture, seems really done with no other View, but that of reviving those Clamours and Disturbances, which were lately so artfully stirred up over the whole Kingdom. It is impossible to talk either for or against committing a Petition, without entering some way into the Merits of it, and into what may be expected to be done in that Committee: In this, if there is any Irregularity, the Gentlemen who have spoke for referring the Petition to a Committee, have been as guilty as those who spoke against it; but in my Opinion, there is nothing more proper to be consider'd at present, than whether or no there can possibly be any Thing proposed in that Committee, for redressing the Grievances complained of in the Petition; for if no present Redress can be thought of, it would not be very consistent with the Dignity of this House, to go into a Committee upon any Affair, only to stare at one another, and then to break up without hearing any Thing proposed, or coming to any one Resolution; and as yet I have heard nothing mentioned, nor so much as hinted at for us to do in that Committee, but what might probably diminish the publick Revenue, which is a Risque we ought not to run at present. I am very sensible of the great Enormities committed by the Smugglers, especially in the adjacent Counties. The open and outrageous Manner in which they carry on their Frauds is well known; but that Method of Smuggling is much more expensive, difficult, and dangerous, than the private Way they had of carrying on that Practice, before the Laws of the Excise were joined to those of the Customs; it is likewise well known, how many Seizures have lately been made, and how many of those Smugglers have been quite ruined and undone; this must necessarily discourage any new Undertakers in that Way, and will certainly put an End to the Practice. I shall not now pretend to say, what Increase has been made to the publick Revenue, by subjecting Tea, Coffee, and Chocolate to the Laws of Excise, but it is certain that Branch of the Revenue has been since that Time increased, and I cannot think but there was more Smuggling before than since that Alteration was made; there were not indeed so many Seizures made before, nor was Smuggling formerly carried on in so open or so violent a Manner; so that it has since made a great deal more Noise, and from thence most People conclude, falsely I believe, that Smuggling has lately increased.
'It is true, most of those Things now under the Laws of Excise, are not so much followed after as Tea, which indeed makes a Difference as to the Number of Persons who are thereby subjected to the Excise Laws: But as to those who, by their being Manufacturers of such other Commodities, are subjected to such Laws, they certainly have as much Reason to complain of Grievances, as the Dealers in Coffee and Tea can possibly have; and therefore they have as good Reason to apply to Parliament for Relief. Have not the Malsters, Brewers, Soap-boilers, and a great many others, as good a Title to all the Liberties and Privileges of Englishmen, as the Dealers in Coffee and Tea, or any other Subjects? And the Reason for distinguishing both from the rest of their Countrymen is, because the publick Utility and the Nature of their Business, make it absolutely necessary to do so: If we then take the Case of the Petitioners into our Consideration, can we expect but all the other Sorts of Traders, who are, or imagine themselves in the same Circumstances, will not apply to us for Relief? And will it be consistent with the Justice of Parliament, not to take their Cases under our Consideration, as well as the Case of the Petitioners? Thus shall we open a Door for a great deal more Business, than we shall have Time to dispatch in this Session or in this Parliament. In the present Case, Gentlemen ought to consider, that the Duties upon Coffee and Tea are appropriated to the Payment of the publick Debts; and therefore, before we attempt any Alteration, as to the Method of collecting it, or any Thing that may possibly diminish it, we ought to have the Consent of those who are interested therein; and in case of a Diminution we ought to be well assured of the Means to make it up in another Way. I have always had, and shall have as great a Regard to the Interest of the Subject, as any Member of this House; and I do not doubt but the honourable Gentleman who spoke last has the same: But I never could think the taking Care of the Subject, and of the publick Revenue, were distinct Considerations; they are certainly the same, and in all our Deliberations in this House we ought to have a Regard to both. I agree, that something may, and ought to be done, for putting an immediate Stop to the present Practice of Smuggling, but I think it more consistent with the Wisdom of this House, not to enter upon so copious a Field at the very Close of a Parliament; and therefore, as one that wishes well to the Subject, as a Member of this House, and as an honest Man, I shall give my Vote for ordering the Petition to lie on the Table.'
Mr Pulteney spoke next in Favour of the Petition:
'I find that all the Gentlemen, who have opposed this Motion now in your Hand, pretend to be of Opinion, that this is not a proper Time for going into the Committee proposed. This was, I remember, the chief Argument made use of in last Session of Parliament against taking this Petition into our Consideration; then indeed they pretended, that the Petition was signed but by a few of the Dealers in that Commodity: But this Objection being now intirely remov'd by the Gentleman who presented the Petition, they are obliged to have recourse to the other Objection, which they then made use of. In last Session they told us, 'This Session is near an End, we have not Time now to enter into the Consideration of the Matters complained of in the Petition, but next Session it shall be done.' Now we are in the next Session, and in the Beginning of the Session too, they cannot tell us the Session is near an End: But they say, 'This Session will be but short, and as it is so near the Close of a Parliament, we cannot now enter into the Consideration of this Affair, but it shall be done next Parliament.' What arrant Trifling is this? Can Gentlemen expect that this House will be treated in such a Manner? Who is the Gentleman can promise, that this will be done next Parliament? Can he, who fancies himself the greatest Man amongst us, be sure of having a Seat in next Parliament? Or if he has, can he be sure that his Power and Sway will be the same? But why should this be but a short Session? There is no Necessity, that I know of, for putting an End to the Session so soon; if there is, why did they not call us sooner? Those in the Administration have the sole Advising of his Majesty, and it lies wholly in his Breast when to call us together, as well as when to put an End to the Session. Shall our Trade then lie exposed to Fraud and Smuggling? Shall our Fellow-Subjects continue to groan under Loads of Oppression, only because they are resolved this Session shall be a short One? The honourable Gentleman, who spoke last, seemed to think that this Petition was presented with a View only, as he said, to revive the Clamours, and renew the Disturbances that were last Year without Doors. This I am surpriz'd at! Shall our oppressed Countrymen be accused of having a Design to raise Disturbances, when they complain to Parliament of the Grievances they labour under? Shall those who sue to us in the most humble Manner, and pray that we would take their Case into Consideration, and give them some Relief if possible, be deemed seditious? No, they cannot be so much as suspected of having any such Design; but if the present Motion be rejected, it will, and it ought to revive those Clamours, and renew those Disturbances, which were last Year most justly raised over the whole Kingdom, by a most wicked Scheme which was proposed in this House: The Nation will from thence most justly conclude, that the Scheme then set on Foot is not yet laid aside; they will have Reason to fear, that an honourable Gentleman may perhaps be able to persuade Gentlemen, at the Beginning of a Seven Year's Parliament, to agree to that wicked Scheme, which he could not persuade them to agree to immediately before a new Election. If our Fellow-Subjects were intirely relieved from the Oppression of Excise-Laws, it might not perhaps be so easy to saddle us with them again; but the Gentleman is resolved to preserve this as a Nest-Egg, as a Foundation to build on, whensoever he has a Mind to take up again his favourite Scheme. Gentlemen seem to be in a Fright, as if the publick Revenue were to be diminished or taken away; but I am convinced their Fears are groundless: All that is desired is, that we would go into a Committee, that we would take the Affair once seriously into our Consideration, to see if any Thing can be done more effectually to secure the publick Revenue than it is at present, and at the same time to grant some Relief to those who petition for it, and have a Right to expect it. This will give us a Title to return to our Constituents with some Confidence; and I can see no Reason why we should leave to any future Parliament the Honour of doing a Work, which will be of such signal Service to their Country and to their Fellow-Subjects: The Grievance now complained of was, without doubt, the Foundation of that wicked Scheme which we had last Year before us; and I am convinced, no Gentleman who had the Honour of opposing that Scheme, will agree to the rejecting of the present Motion; otherwise the House must be much changed from what it was when an honourable Gentleman, on seeing the Minority daily increase, and the Majority sicken away, was at last forc'd, almost with Tears in his Eyes, to give up his favourite Child, of whom he seemed to have a most extraordinary Opinion, when he said, 'That Gentlemen, who envied him other Things, would some Day or other envy him the Honour of that Project.' I am persuaded he still entertains the same good Opinion of it, and waits only for a proper Opportunity to renew it; for which Reason he is unwilling that we should go into such a Committee as is now proposed, left we should sap all the Foundations of any future Project for a farther Extension of the Excise-Laws.'
To this Sir Robert Walpole replied.
Sir R. Walpole
'If I were to follow the Gentleman, who spoke last, in all he has said, I must intirely neglect the Question before us; but of late it has become so fashionable for Gentlemen to run away from the Question, and say every Thing their Fancies suggest to them, that it is impossible to give them any Answer, and keep to the Order of Debate. I cannot comprehend how I come to be any way personally concerned in the present Question, yet most of what the Gentleman said seemed in a particular Manner to be directed at me, which indeed is a Subject I always speak to with the greatest Unwillingness, as it is very little worthy the Attention of this House. As to those Clamours which were lately, or have at any other Time been raised without Doors, I know that all the means human Industry was capable of, have been employed to raise Clamour against me in all Parts of the Kingdom; but it is my Happiness, that after ten Years Endeavours for that Purpose, no Objection could ever be made to my Conduct, except what proceeded from something I had proposed or moved for in this House. I am not conscious to myself that I ever proposed any Thing in this House, but what I thought consistent with my Duty, as a Member of this House, as a good Subject, and as a Servant to the Crown; and in such Case, Gentlemen may talk of the Privileges of Parliament, and of the Freedom of Debate in this House, but if what a Man says is to be misrepresented, and Clamours raised against him without Doors, for what he honestly and fairly proposes, or gives as his Opinion in this House, I must leave to the House to judge, what their Privileges may in Time come to. As to the wicked Scheme, as the Gentleman was pleased to call it, which he would persuade Gentlemen, is not yet laid aside, I, for my own Part, can assure this House, I am not so mad as ever again to engage in any Thing that looks like an Excise, tho' in my own private Opinion I still think it was a Scheme, that would have tended very much to the Interest of the Nation, and I am convinced that all the Clamours without Doors, and a great Part of the Opposition it met with every where, was founded upon artful Falshoods, Misrepresentations, and Insinuations that such Things were intended, as had never entered into the Thoughts of any Man I am acquainted with.
I will now try, if I may be allow'd to speak a few Words to the Question now before us, but must first take Notice, that I do not remember any Promise made last Session, that this Petition should be taken into Consideration in this Session; nor do I know any Person that could make such Promise, or that can now say it shall be consider'd of next Session. I am sure I never made any such Promise; but I believe any Gentleman may say, that the next Parliament may, if they please, take the Affair into their Consideration; and I think it is an Affair of such Consequence, that it will be more proper to enter upon it in the Beginning of a new Parliament, than at the very Close of an old one. It has been pretended, that the Alteration made some Years ago, as to the Method of collecting the Duties on Tea, has not prevented the running of that Commodity, nor increased the Revenue in Proportion to the Increase of the Consumption; to prove this, Gentlemen have been pleased to make Computations, but, as was before observed, they took a very unfair Method. As to the Running of Tea, the Alteration made has not indeed entirely prevented it, but I am sure it has made Running a great deal more expensive and dangerous; therefore one may with a great deal of Probability conclude, that no such large Quantities of Tea have been run since the late Alteration was made, as there were before that Time; or at least it may be said, that as all Sorts of Teas are now sold much cheaper abroad than they were formerly, and all our Smugglers are become more cunning, and more bold and desperate, a great deal more of that Commodity would have been run in upon us, if that Alteration in collecting the Duty had not been seasonably made. As to the Increase of the publick Revenue, if Gentlemen will take that Branch of it at a Medium for seven Years before and seven Years after the Alteration, I believe it would be found to have been a growing Revenue from that Time 'till the Year 1729, when indeed it began to decrease; but that was not owing to the new Arts found out by the Smugglers, but to the Increase of their Profits by Smuggling; for in that Year the Dutch had four Ships at China, and the French had four more, by which they imported so great Quantities of Tea, and were obliged to sell it so cheap, that they not only supplied those Places we formerly used to supply, but greater Quantities of it were run in upon us, because the Increase of the Difference between the Price of that Commodity Abroad and the Price here, considerably increased the Profits to be got by Running, which made the old Smugglers run greater Risks, and engaged a great many new Adventurers in that pernicious Trade; and this is the true Cause why that Branch of our publick Revenue began then to decrease; but if the former Method of collecting that Duty had been then in use, it would have decreased much more considerably; nay, I do not know but it might have almost intirely vanished. Another Mistake which Gentlemen have fallen into is, they have, as to the Produce of this Branch of the Revenue for last Year, forgot to make any Allowances for the large Quantities now in the Warehouses of the East-India Company, which must all pay Duty before it can be removed in order to be sold for Home-Consumption; so that to pick out any one Year for determining the Amount of that Part of the publick Revenue, is a very fallacious Way of computing, because it intirely depends upon the Sales which the East-India Company are pleased to make, and not upon the Quantity that is consumed within the Kingdom for that Year, and yet Gentlemen have been so candid, as to pick out this last Year, when the Produce was less than it has been in any one Year since the Alteration was made, in order to compare it with the Year immediately preceeding the Alteration, when the Produce was higher than it had ever been before; and for this plain Reason, because, when that Alteration began to be talked of, every Body imagined, that it would inhance the Price of Tea, and therefore most private Families laid in great Stocks of Tea, before the Alteration took Place. When Gentlemen talk of going into Committees to consider of taking the Duties off of any Commodity, they do not surely reflect, that it would be entering into an Affair which requires the most mature Consideration; there are many other Duties which ought to be lowered or taken off, if it were possible; and if we were to go into such a Committee, I do not know but it might be thought more reasonable by many Gentlemen to take off the Duty on Soap and Candles, than to take off, or even to lower the Duty now payable upon Coffee and Tea; but these are Considerations which I cannot think proper to be entered upon in the last Session of a Parliament; therefore I must be against the present Motion, whatever Use may be made of putting a Negative upon it: The rejecting of it may perhaps be made Use of by some Gentlemen to raise new Clamours, and to increase the Number of Cockades, with the sine Motto of Liberty, Property, and no Excise; but whatever Hopes may be conceived from such low Artifices, I entertain no Fears about them, nor shall they ever deter me from declaring my Sentiments freely upon any Subject that comes before this House.'
Hereupon the Speaker rose up, and said,
It is no Business of mine to appear on either Side of the Question: But it is my Duty to take Notice, when Gentlemen are disorderly. There is nothing more irregular than for Gentlemen to be personal in their Debates, or to mention any Thing that has been said in a former Session of Parliament, or even only the very Day before.
Mr. W. Pulteney.
Upon this Mr Pulteney stood up again, and said,
'It is certain there is nothing more irregular, than for Gentlemen to be personal in their Debates, or to mention any thing that has been said by any particular Gentleman in a former Debate; but if I am the Person meant, I cannot think I have been guilty of any of these Irregularities: I have said nothing but what related some way to the Question in Hand, or in answer to what had been said by some of the Gentlemen who spoke before me. But now I'm up, I'll just mention one Thing, with the Indulgence of this House, which the honourable Gentleman who spoke last seems to mistake; he seemed to me to talk as if Gentlemen meant to take off the Duty on Tea: No Body, I believe, has spoke of taking off that Duty; but if the Duty be too high, or laid on in a wrong Manner, if we go into a Committee on that Affair, I doubt not but something may be proposed for securing the Duty to the Publick more effectually than at present; and for levying it in a Way which may be more convenient and agreeable to the Subject. We may remember what was the Case of the Duty upon Pepper; that Duty was found by Experience to be too high; it was lower'd, and even by the lowering of it, the Revenue came to be a considerable Gainer. This may be found to be the Case, with respect to Tea, but this we cannot judge of till we go into a Committee upon it, and have all Papers proper for our Instruction laid before us.'
Sir J. Barnard.
Sir John Barnard spoke next,
'The honourable Gentleman over the Way has endeavoured to prove by Argument, the contrary of what is known to be true in Fact. He granted, indeed, that the subjecting of Tea to the Laws of Excise has not intirely prevented the Running that Commodity; but then he said, if it had not been subjected to the Laws of Excise, much greater Quantities would have been run, because of the great Difference that there has lately been in the Price of Tea Abroad, and the Price of it in this Kingdom: Now, I cannot believe there is, or has lately been, so great a Difference between the Price of Tea in foreign Parts, and the Price at our East-India Sales; for it is certain that our East-India Company must and ought to regulate their Price according to the Price it bears in foreign Markets: They certainly buy it as cheap in China as any other Company can do, and it costs them no more to bring it Home, therefore they ought to sell as cheap as any Company does, otherwise they cannot pretend to sell any of their Tea in a foreign Market; and it is to be hoped, they do not make use of their exclusive Privilege, to lay a Tax upon this Nation, by making us pay dearer for their Tea than we can purchase it from others: This indeed would give an Encouragement to Smuggling, but this would be owing intirely to their making a bad Use of their exclusive Charter. For this Reason it is to be presumed, that in the Year 1729, when the Price of that Commodity fell so much Abroad, it fell a great deal likewise at our East-India Sales here; and therefore that Difference, which the Gentleman built so much on, cannot be the real Cause of the Decrease of that Branch of our Revenue since that Time; but this is a Fact which we ought to inquire into, and a strong Reason for our going into the Committee I have proposed.
'Tis true, the Laws of Excise do not contribute any thing to the Encouragement of Running; this is what no Gentleman has asserted, but I am convinc'd they have contributed nothing to the preventing of Running; and I am sure, if it does not appear, that they have contributed very remarkably to the preventing of that infamous Practice, we ought not to leave such a Number of our Fellow-Subjects, even for the Space of one Year, under the Burthen of such oppressive Laws, otherwise it cannot be said, that we have that Regard to the Ease of the People, which a British Parliament ought to have, and I hope will have. The Gentleman found Fault with the Computations made, but let him make his Computations what way he will, I believe it will be found, that the Increase of the publick Revenue has bore no Proportion to the Increase of the Consumption; and this last Increase, which must be acknowledged by every Man, is a good Reason why the Rule, which the Gentleman proposes for discovering whether the Revenue has been a Gainer by subjecting Tea and Coffee to the Laws of Excise, ought not to be observed; for if the Consumption gradually increas'd for seven Years before, and seven Years after the Alteration in collecting the Duty on those Commodities, the Medium for the seven Years after, must be much higher than for seven Years before, and yet the Increase of the publick Revenue cannot be said to be owing to the Laws of Excise, but to the Increase of the Consumption. As to the great Quantities of Tea now in the Warehouses of the East-India Company, and the larger Quantities pretended to be bought up just before the Alteration took Place, it is certain the Company generally have large Quantities in their Warehouses, and sell them off according to the Demand, which, as to our Home-Consumption, must be pretty near equal one Year with another; so that if they have greater Quantities now than usual, it must be because of the little Demand there is for their Tea at foreign Markets; but whatever they sell for that Purpose pays no Duty, therefore it cannot be said, that the Quantities they have upon their Hands must all pay the Duty, or that a Variation in their Sales can ever much alter the Amount of that Branch of the Revenue. Whether large Quantities of Tea were bought up just before the Alteration took Place, is what I shall not now pretend to determine; but if we go into a Committee on this Affair, the Accounts of Sales, and the Accounts of Tea exported in that Year may be called for, and from them that Matter will appear; so that every Fact the honourable Gentleman has been pleased to mention, is a strong Argument for our going into a Committee upon this Affair.
'I find no Fault with the Duty on Tea being so high, I wish it were higher than it is, if it were possible to collect it, because I look upon it as an Article of Luxury; therefore, if the Duty on some Sorts of Tea were raised, and if all the Tea that shall hereafter be seiz'd, was to be burnt and destroy'd, I believe it would be much better for the Nation: And this is an Answer to what an honourable Gentleman said, That we ought not to go into a Committee, unless we are well assured, some Gentleman has something to propose; tho' I do not allow his Rule to be good, because, when a Committee is resolved on, and proper Papers called for, Gentlemen may from them find something very reasonable to propose to the Committee, which they could not before think of: But in the present Case, this Argument is of no Weight, for besides that already mentioned, I could hint at several other Propositions which may be thought reasonable. We are certainly in a wrong Method at present, with respect to our Duties upon Tea: There is a very great Difference in the Price of different Sorts of Tea, and yet our Duty is upon all Sorts of Tea the same; Tea of 2s. per Pound, pays as much Duty as Tea of 20s. per Pound; and therefore, in my Opinion, if the Duty were laid on ad Valorem, neither the publick Revenue, nor the East-India Company would suffer so much by the large Quantities of low prized Tea, run in upon us from Holland and Flanders. In Cases where the Duty far exceeds the prime Cost of the Commodity, there is a very great Temptation for Smuggling: A Man has more Profit when he gets two hundred per Cent. on the Money he lays out, than when he gets but one, or perhaps but 50 per Cent. and this will encourage him to run a greater Risk, and will engage more Persons to become Adventurers. Upon this Consideration it must be granted, that the Lowness of the Price of some Sorts of Tea Abroad, may of late have contributed a little to the Increase of Smuggling; but no Laws can in such Case prevent the Practice; for where there is an excessive Advantage to be got by a Man's being lucky, no Risk can prevent his endeavouring to grasp at it, nor will the Misfortunes of some frighten others from becoming Adventurers: This is the Nature of Mankind, therefore it is vain to imagine, that the joining of the Laws of Excise to those of the Customs will prevent the Running of Tea, as long as the Advantage to be got by it continues so extraordinary.
'Tho' every Man subject to the Laws of Excise is as liable to Hardships as another, yet there is a very great Difference between the Excise upon Tea, Coffee, and Chocolate, and the Excise upon any other Commodity. By all our other Excises, except Brandy, but a few People, none but the first Manufacturers are made subject to the Laws of Excise, and by most of them, there is a very great Addition made to the publick Revenue; but as to the Excise upon Tea, Coffee, and Chocolate, there is little Advantage got to the Publick by that Method, yet by that Excise there are more People, I believe, made subject to those oppressive Laws than by all the other Excises. And surely, when we are to subject any of our Fellow-Subjects to oppressive Laws, we ought to consider their Number, and the Benefit which the Publick reaps thereby, in order to compare the two together, and from thence determine, whether the Advantage got by the Publick bears such a Proportion, as may justify the laying so many of our Countrymen under great Inconveniencies: This shews that the giving Ear to the just Complaints of the Petitioners, lays us under no Necessity of taking the Case of any other Set of Men under our Consideration.
'As to the Consent of those, who have an Interest in the Duty upon Coffee, Tea, and Chocolate, I believe we need give ourselves no Trouble upon that Head; for as they are certain, that the Parliament will not allow them to be Susferers, they will, as soon as asked, readily consent to any Alteration we shall make, especially when it is for freeing such a considerable Number of their Fellow-Countrymen from great Hardships; but it will be Time enough to think of this after we have come to the Resolution of going into a Committee upon this Affair; therefore that Argument can be of no Manner of Weight against the Question.'
Mr J. Cockburn.
Mr John Cockburn spoke next.
'In our present Situation, I would be very far from agreeing to any Thing that could possibly diminish the publick Revenue; but I am certain the Revenue can be in no Danger by our agreeing to the present Motion; for when we are in the Committee proposed, if any such Thing should be offer'd, Gentlemen may freely give their Negative to it, notwithstanding their having given their Consent for going into a Committee. I must say, I have not heard much Argument made use of by the Gentlemen who have opposed this Motion: The whole of what they have said resolves in this, that the Time is improper, because the Session is to be but short; so that the true Question now before us, is, Shall we allow so many of our Fellow-Subjects to labour under what they apprehend to be a Grievance, without making the least Inquiry into their Complaints? Or shall we sit three or four Days longer than some Gentlemen intend we should? As this seems the only Question before us, it is easy for any Gentleman to determine, which Side he ought to take; I shall most certainly be for going into the Committee moved for.'
After him Mr Joseph Danvers said,
Mr Jos. Danvers.
'I am so far from being for the Question before us, that I think this House shews a great deal of good Nature, in allowing the Petition to lie upon the Table; for, in my Opinion, it ought to be rejected. I shall, indeed, readily be for any Thing that may discourage not only the Running, but the Importation of Coffee, Tea, or Chocolate; for I wish we would or could be made all to return to the good old Way of our Ancestors, in breakfasting upon good English Ale and Bread and Cheese. Both the Men and Women of those Days were, I believe, as strong and as healthy as they are now, and yet what they made use of for Breakfast, did not carry one Penny out of the Nation: However, I think we may find out a much properer Time for inquiring into this Affair, than the very last Session of a Parliament, and a Session which must be taken up in considering Things of much greater Consequence, not only to this Nation, but to Europe in general. An honourable Gentleman talked much of a Scheme, which was before us last Year, which he was pleased to call a wicked Scheme; but I differ so far from him, that I think the Gentlemen concerned in the Administration never did a Thing so wrong, as the giving up that Scheme: I then thought, and still think, it would have been very much for the Interest of the Nation, and I am sure that it might have been carried, if those Gentlemen had not of themselves let it drop.'
The Druggist's Petition drop'd.
Then the Question being put, for referring the said Petition to a Committee of the whole House, it was carry'd in the Negative by 233 against 155.