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The annual expense of the civil government of Scotland, including ten thousand six hundred pounds sterling of annuity due to the equivalent, and two thousand sterling that had been bestowed as an annuity for the encouragement of manufactures, was at this period from fifty-one to fifty-two thousand pounds. To meet this expense, the principal fund depended upon was the excise, the customs having for some time previous to this become exceedingly unproductive. The excise had also been for a number of years falling gradually off, having fallen from forty-one thousand and some hundred odd pounds, to which it amounted in 1733, to twenty-two thousand and a few odd hundreds in 1742,* which, with all the other duties, made the
** Had the diminution of the excise,” says president Forbes,“ been owing to the casualty of a bad crop, which frequently occasions a shortcoming, as it did for example in the year from Midsummer 1740, to Midsummer 1741, wherein the net duty amounted to no more than £18,899:1:31, it would have given me no pain, because a more plentiful harvest would have repayed the loss. But the misfortune is, that this decay has been regular and progressive, growing more sensible from year to year, ever since 1793, and must continue for ever, how plentiful soever our crops may be, unless the cause of that decay is discovered and removed.
It becomes therefore highly important for us, who belong to this poor country, to search after the cause of this mischief, and, if possible, to eradicate it. The first point is easily compassed the second is a work of much more difficulty; but it must necessarily be attempted; for if we do not destroy it, it will most certainly destroy us, and that very soon.”
The following causes assigned by the worthy president, will be thought in this age a little odd; but they were as firmly believed in, at the time, as any of the most specious dogmas of modern politicians, and resolutions adopting the theory of the president, and approving of his method of cure, were passed by almost every county in Scotland.
“ The cause of the mischief we complain of,” he proceeds," is evidently the excessive use of tea; which is now become so common, that the meanest family even of labouring people, particularly in boroughs, make their morning meal of it, and thereby wholly disuse the ale, which heretofore was their accustomed drink; and the same drug supplies all the labouring women with their afternoon's entertainments, to the exclusion of the twopenny.
• The Ostend company first, and afterwards that settled at Gottenburgh, not only filled the most of Europe with tea, but by necessary consequence, brought down the price of it very low. Several persons belonging to this country, of low, if not of desperate fortunes, were concerned in the service of these companies, particularly of that of Gottenburgh. They run their lowpriced tea into Scotland, and sold it very cheap; a pound went from half-a
total sum, of which the crown could avail itself, thirty-one thousand two hundred and forty pounds sterling, a sum altogether inadequate to its wants, “and accordingly,” says the president, “the exchequer has been obliged, I would not say
crown to three or four shillings. The good wife was fond of it, because her betters made use of tca; a pound of it would last her a month, which made her breakfast, as she made no account of the sugar, which it took up only in
In short, the itch spread; the refuse of the vilest teas were run into this country from Holland, sold and bought at the prices I have mentioned; and at present there are very few cotters in any of the boroughs of this coun. try, who do not sit down very gravely with their wives and families to tea.
“ It is above seven years since I foresaw, or rather saw this abuse, and warned against it. The better sort of the commonalty first gave into it, and of course left off their morning drink of ale, which impaired considerably the excise. But when, by degrees, the commons within borough almost universally followed the example, the use of ale and beer for mornings and afternoons was almost wholly laid aside, and the revenue of excise has sunk in proportion as this villanous practice has grown.
Nor is it that revenue only that suffers by this unaccountable abuse. The duty of two pennies on the pint of beer and ale, which Edinburgh, Glasgow, and almost all the other considerable brughs of Scotland, begged of the parliament, and depended on as the chief fund for defraying their common expenses is sunk, rather in a greater proportion than the excise; as this pernicious practice prevails more within brughs than in the country. And what grieves me most, the malt duty, which formerly yielded considerable surplus to the manufactures, after answering the net sum of £20,000 to the crown, has not been able, for severall years, to answer the sur which the publick is entitled to have.
This last article claims (in a particular manner) your lordship's attention. By the malt act, which charges Scotland with the duty of threepence per bushell, it is provided, that in case that duty does not produce the sum of £20,000 clear to the crown, the deficiency shall be made good by a surcharge. Now, as the sums in which the malt duty has been deficient for the four years preceding midsummer last, amount to about £21,000, this poor country is, within the words of the law, liable to a surcharge for that large sum. What distractions the exacting would occasion, your lordship can easily figure to yourself; nor do I mention it from any apprehension, that those who have the honour to serve his majestie in the direction of the revenue, will think of such a harsh measure at this time; but purely that your lordship may see from this, as well as the other considerations mentioned, how important a point it becomes, to devise and to apply some effectual remedy to the destructive evill I have been speaking of.
If I am not very much mistaken, your lordship is by this time satisfied, that the excessive use of tea is the principal cause of the misfortunes we feel, and are re likely to suffer under more smartly; and that if some effectual remedy is
to stop, for that is ane ugly word, but to delay payments.” Owing to this state of things, the annuity for encouraging manufactures was not paid, though a government warrant had been signed for it, and the salaries of the judges of all the three
not applied, we are undone. What I am next to trouble your lordship with, is, what upon the most serious consideration, recurs to me as the only practicable manner in which to attempt relief.
Could the running of tea be prevented, so that every pound of tea should fairly pay a duty of four shillings, the abuse complained of would cease of course, because it is the meanness of the price that encourages the poorer sort to purchase; and the duty, added even to the low values at which it is now sold, would prove ane effectual bar to the use of it amongst such as have deserted twopenny for it. But then, considering the extent of our coast, the small number of officers which our revenue can entertain, and I am afraid I may say the corruption of these officers, it is, at least it seems to me, to be utterly impossible to prevent the running of this light commodity, by any law yet enacted, or that may be devised.
It might indeed be very possible to prevent the use of it among such as could not afford to pay the duty, and to recover the duty from such as shou'd continue to use it, by very rigid excise laws, such as England wou'd not choose to submit to, or by levying a rate from the familys in which tea is used, by a sort of capitation tax, in the manner in which such dutys are levyed in Holland, and a method might I think be contrived, not subject to a possibility of fraud, whereby such persons of this country as truly made use of tea which paid duty in London, might draw back that duty. But as I doubt, nay indeed I hope, that England is not so much hurt by this abominable practice, either in its revenues or other interests, as we are, so that it is not likely they will be disposed to make use of a remedy, which to them may seem so violent, however, I might, for my own part, choose to submit to any method of exaction, than be overwhelmed with immediate ruin; yet, as it would be extremely dangerous, in point of precedent, to submit to a different tax, and a different method of levying it, in the one part of the island from what takes place in the other, I confess I think this ought to be considered as the last shift, and every other possible method ought to be first essayed.
What appears then to me to be a remedy not attended with any insuperable objection is this, in a few words; by act of parliament to prohibite, under sufficient penaltys to be recovered with certainty and dispatch, the use of tea among that class of mankind in this country, whose circumstances dare not permit them to come at tea that pays the duty; and yet whose taking to run tea, and deserting the use of malt liquor occasions the complaint.
The principal difficulty that appears to me in this scheme is, how to describe with certainty the persons intended to be prohibited to make use of tea, and how to make the proper provisions for the ready and certain execution; for I hope, the general design of prohibiting the use of any particular drug,
courts were nearly cwelve months in arrear, nor was there any possibility of discharging them but by applying the revenue of the present year to the expenses of that which was past; and even this expedient, without an immediate and very material
to any particular set of subjects, who cannot possibly come at it in a fair way, is not liable to any just exception. It has been the policy of many of the wisest and of the freest states to regulate the dyet of their citizens. Sumptuary laws have never been thought unjust restraints, and the late instance of the gin bill, whereby the health of the lower class of mankind in England was taken care of by prohibitions and severe penaltys, is ane answer to every objection that can be offered to the general design of the law I propose.
The East India company cannot possibly be affected by this proposition; for besides that, in fact, the whole tea intended to be prevented to be used comes from Gottenburgh and Holland, the prohibition is not meant to affect that class of mankind that can come up to tea that pays the duty; such as is all the tea in which the company is interested.
With respect to the description of the class of persons intended to be affected by the prohibition, it is evident no description of which we have precedents in the law of Scotland will do. The distinction made in the stat. 1701, concerning personal liberty between noblemen, landed gentlemen, other gentlernen, burgesses, and persons below that rank, will not answer, nor will any other that I know of hitherto made use of. But I think that, as what gives rise to the grievance is the use of vile tea, by such persons whose low circumstances will not permit them to purchase better and dearer, a rate shou'd be thought of and settled, of the fortune, or yearly income of those who may be supposed capable of supporting the expense of tea that may pay duty; and all under that rate, ought to be prohibited the use of it.
For example; if it shall be thought that a person who has of yearly income, whether from land, money, trade, or any art or profession, £50, £100, or any other sum to be fixed in the bill, ought to be permitted to make use of tea ; then all who cannot show, that they have such yearly income, may be prohibited ; and the making use of tea in their family by themselves, their wives, their children, their servants, or any other persons, may be made penall, and the onus probandi of the extent of their yearly income may be layed on them; with a provision, that the evidence offered by them may be endangered by their oaths; as also with a provision, that the offence, I mean the use of tea in their familys, may be proved also by their oaths if the prosecutor thinks fit.
As these provisions are pretty severe, I think the penalty for the first offence at least, ought to be very moderate. I should propose 20 or 30 shillings; to be doubled for the second offence; and so to rise, either by doubling the last sum, or by adding 20 or 30 shillings for every subsequent offence.
I would give the right of informing to the officers of excise, because they are subject to direction, and correction in case of neglect, oppression, or col. lusion. I would give the one half of the penalty to the informer, and the
improvement of the revenue, it is evident, behored in a very short time to be utterly unavailing.
Amidst the tempest of faction, and the heat of party zeal, that was scorching and distracting the nation, the emissaries of
other half to the cashier for the manufactures, for the use of manufacturers, to gain favour to the prosecution, and lessen the odium that it might at first, and amongst unthinking people, raise.
I would make the penalty recoverable upon a summary complaint before the baillies within the burgh, or before the sheriffs, stewarts, baillies of regality, or any one justice of peace in the landward, together with the full costs of suit. But then, to prevent partiality, in case of the magistrate within brugh, or the country justices acquitting contrary to evidence, I would give the informer; with the concurrence or approbation of the board of excise, a power of exhibiting a summary complaint before any of the three courts that shall be thought proper, against such magistrate or judge; and I wou'd make the penalty of acquitting contrary to evidence, deprivation, incapacity to hold again the office forfeited, with double or treble cost of suit. N. B. As the projected regulation, tho' intended to promote the revenue, gives nevertheless no duty to the crown, and as the offence to be punished is the trespass of a judge contrary to evidence, there is no occasion of giving the cognisance to the court of exchequer; and as the chief end of the severe provision proposed, is, to frighten from wilfully wrong-doing, I believe the effect wou'd be best attained by confining the conviction to the court of session.
As the lowest rank of housekeepers make use of tea, so the servants, particularly the females, in better familys, make it their morning and afternoon's dyet; now I would submit it, whether tbe use of it to all servants might not be prohibited, under the like penalty, to affect the master or mistress of the family if unmarried, and recoverable in the same manner, and upon the like proof, as in the other case.
It may merit consideration, how far some persons whose circumstances may bring them within the probibition, who by a long custom have been so habituated to tea drinking, that ane alteration of dyet may be extremely uneasie if not prejudicial to them, may not be allowed some indulgence; and if that sentiment prevail, such indulgence may be given to such persons as shall enter their names with the excise officer, and pay down, for a license to make use of tea for a year from the date of such entry, forty shillings, or any other particular sum to be limited; but subject to the condition, that no tea shall be used in the family by servants, &c. If this small sume could be appropriated to the manufactures, it would be convenient; but if that meets with opposition, I do not insist upon it.
After having given your lordship this rude sketch of my project, I am conscious, that, as it has much novelty in it, it must appear uncouth, and requires a good deal of consideration to bring men to approve of it, especially in the part of the world where your lordship now is. But, as it is intended only for Scotland, and is to have its execution there, I should hope the necessity