AMONGST our numerous taxes, this is one of the worst. It is le- vied on an article essential both to cleanliness and health ; it is very unequal ; for whilst the duty adds two thirds to the price of the coarse soap which the poor man uses, it becomes trivial when levied on the refined and scented soaps of the rich. It combines in itself, and that to a considerable extent, two of the most objec- tionable elements in taxation : duties are laid upon all the raw materials of its manufacture, and then a heavy duty, both mis- chievous and vexatious, is levied upon the manufactured commo- dity, the effect of the regulations under which it is collected being to encourage smuggling, and to shut out all improvement in the legitimate trade. The manufacture of soap is purely a chemical process; yet no improvements have taken place in England from the late extensive improvements in chemistry—the processes and apparatus are essentially the same as they were one hundred years since. But whilst the fair trader is prevented from advancing with the advance of science, fresh discovery facilitates the frauds of the smuggler. The tax is also a partial tax : Great Britain is subject to it, Ireland is exempt. This circumstance, combined with the high rate of duty, the facilities which modern discoveries have given to the illicit trader, and the actual necessity for the use of the commodity by the bulk of the people, not only gives rise to the most extensive smuggling, but, under the name of a drawback, gives a bounty to the smuggler. The evils of the tax, the trivial benefits that will result from the proposed reduction in the rate of duty, compared with those which would flow from its total remis- sion, induce us to go into the subject at considerable length. Pre- mising, that for the power of communicating the full and detailed particulars we shall lay before the reader, we are indebted to a very high practical authority, we proceed to examine the subject in its principal bearings. And first; of
THE REAL AMOUNT OF THE DUTY.
This varies, as we have already stated, according to the quality of the soap. The local situation, and especially the skill of the manufacturer, will also have an effect upon the exact proportion which the duty bears to the necessary price of the commodity. But the estimate in the fol- lowing table may be relied upon, as an accurate representation of the mode in which the various duties enhance the price of a ton of yellow soap in general use, and which is sold by wholesale for 56/. per ton, or at the rate of 6d. per lb.
Quantities Materials. used.
cwts. qrs.lbs. X
X s. d.
X s. d.
Tallow or oil 10 2 0 ..
21 0 0 .. 1 13 0 19 6 9 Resin 3 2 0 .. 1 8 0 ..
1 8 0 Barilla 6 0 0 .. 3 6 0 .. 0 12 0 2 14 0 Expenses of manufacture .. ' 3
10 0 ..
3 10 0
Duty on Soap, at 3d. per lb. after one
tenth allowed for waste 25 4 0 .. 25 4 -- 0
54 8 0 27 9 3 26 18 9
Estimated profit 1 12 0
£56 0 0 28 6 0 27 14 0
It therefore appears, that upon an article of average quality, whilst the necessary price of the commodity is only 27/. 14s., the duty creates an addition of 281. 6s. ; or above 100 per cent. There is, moreover, a loss upon the soap before it is fitted for market ; this amounts to about 16s. per ton, and fenders the actual addition made by the duties nearly 110 per cent. Upon inferior articles the proper. tion rises still higher. Upon mottled soap, the Excise-duty, we are assured, is full 28/. per ton ; a large proportion of the alkaline lye being necessarily framed in combination with the soap, from which, after the duty is charged, it settles down, and the extra waste is more than equivalent to the allowance of one-tenth.
The direct duty is, however, far from being the whole amount which is created by the existence of the tax. The regulations, by practically forbidding experiment, prevent all improvement ; by prescribing the processes of manufacture, both positive loss is incurred and waste takes place ; whilst, by unnecessary restrictions, a great waste of time and sometimes a heavy loss is incurred. We proceed to illustrate these points in detail. To make them clearly intelligible, it will be neces- sary briefly to describe
THE PROCESS OF MANUFACTURE.
If olive oil or liquid tallow is well agitated with a strong solution of soda in fit proportions, a hard soap is formed ; and this principle is the basis of the manufacturer's operations. His first business is to form an alkaline solution or ley. This is done by freeing his alkalies (barilla, for instance,) from carbonic acid, by means of lime. Heat is then ap- plied to facilitate the union of the tallow, rosin, &c. with the ley. After exhausting one portion of the solution of its alkali, the dross, so to speak, is removed ; and the operation is renewed with successive charges of ley, till a satisfactory product is obtained. After settling awhile in the coppers, the soap is conveyed into deep wooden troughs or frames, where it becomes solid and fit for removal. This is accom- plished by removing the frames part by part, and cutting the blocks into slabs, which are again divided into bars of various sizes for the re- tail dealer.
Such, briefly, is the mode of manufacturing soap ; during the first process of which, the various chemical changes that take place are both intricate and curious. Into these, however, we shall not enter ; but proceed to
THE EXCISE REGULATIONS;
Which are vexatious and harrassing to the last degree.
"There is no step in the whole of the processes," writes a most intelligent correspondent, himself a manufacturer, "in which the soap-maker does not find himself greatly hampered by the Revenue Laws. The length, breadth, and thickness of his coppers are regulated ; and for each process a given time only is allowed. With every portion of soap exceeding 28Ibs. in weight, the maker must send an Excise certificate. His coppers are daily locked and sealed by the Excise-officers; and he must give notices for each distinct operation. Whether his materials or workmen disappoint him or not, the law requires him to produce one ton of yellow soap from fourteen hundredweight of raw material : if he fails to do so, he is nevertheless charged with the duty in this ratio ; but if
he succeeds, he pays the duty upon the actual product. He has no remedy for those mistakes and accidents which will occur, as every chemist knows, in the best-managed laboratories, when materials so variously constituted in the pro- portion of their ingredients have to be combined. And he is further liable to great annoyance from the conceit and obstinacy of Excise-officers, many of whom are fund of exercising the power they possess, and if offended in any way, can retaliate on the manufacturer greatly to his prejudice."
There can be no doubt that considerable improvements in the manufacture of soap would take place if the trade were unshackeld by regulations. But, independent of future improvements, a consider- able addition is made to the cost of the manufacture, by the existing regulations; the mischievous effects of which are enumerated in the following extract from a letter we have received. " A glance at them," says our correspondent, "must satisfy any one conversant with manu- factures, how much they interfere with economical production."
" I. It is impossible to experiment upon the process ' • for be the result favour- able or not, the duty must be paid on the product, and the sacrifice is in some instances very great.
" 2. No preparation or improvement of the raw material can be attempted without interruption of the Excise; whose presence is a fatal bar to that secrecy which the enterprising trader must avail himself of in case of new discoveries. As the same officers (at least in towns) survey many manufactories, no process can be kept secret by the inventors. " 3. If an inferior article is accidentally produced, the manufacturer cannot return it to the coppers without a sacrifice of the whole duty paid on it. An enormous injustice ! and which might be corrected without the slightest risk to the revenue, as the duty would be ultimately paid for every pound remanu- factured.
4, 4. There is considerable expense of time and labour incurred by weighing the raw material (which can only be done in the presence of the officer), and the necessity of notices to the Excise for each distinct operation, in failure of which notice the operation must be suspended. "5. By the limitation of the time for sundry operations, and the restrictions as to the shape and size of the utensils or vessels used, the manufacturer is pre- vented from consulting his own convenience; and the article is produced of a less perfect quality, and subject to unnecessary waste in preparing it for the market.
" One of the operations occurring almost hourly, is to discharge the tdka nwe ley from the coppers, ‘Aen deprived of-its tree alkali. This must all be done by a pump and manual labour; whereas, if wo could introduce a cock at the bottom of the vessel, much time and trouble would be saved."
Thus far as to the effect of the Regulations. We now come to
THE ILLICIT TRADING IN SOAR; Which is carried on in two modes,—first, by means of the drawback ; second, by evading the duty altogether ; or it is possible to combine both, and draw back a sum which has never been paid.
Ireland being exempt from the tax on soap, a drawback to the full amount,. of the duty (281. per ton) is allowed on exportation to that country. •■,4i..s a credit of six weeks is given out of London, whilst the
drawback Wimmediately paid, a bond fide exporter may carry on busi- ness with the public money. But in the majority of eases, much more considerable frauds upon the public are perpetrated. Sometimes the soap is immediately smuggled back and sold. Sometimes a very in- ferior article is manufactured, and a profit made by the difference between the full amount of the drawback (281.) received, and the duty (251.4s.) paid. Sometimes the drawback is successively. received upon the same article. There is good reason for believing that these different modes of defrauding the revenue are carried on as regular trades, in the same way as smuggled geneva may be insured in Holland, or brandy and silks in France. A short time since, a manufacturer at Bristol was invited to enter into a transaction of this kind : the party proposing it was to he remunerated by a large douceur, and he under- took to receive the drawback and return the soap within a certain time into the exporter's hands. A practitioner of this description recently boasted that he received the drawback four successive times upon the same soap ! It is possible it had never paid the duty. It was probably, after all, sold under price to the poor ; a circumstance, as Sir FRANCIS BURDETT judiciously observed in relation to this subject, which is the chief point to be regarded.
But besides the frauds connected with the drawback, very large
quantities of soap are smuggled, sometimes in private manufactories, but more generally in those which are regularly surveyed by the Excise; the officers being bribed, or their vigilance eluded. In this matter the improvements in the manufacture of alkali have greatly favoured the illicit traders.
" Till within these few years," we again quote our excellent correspondent, "the soap-maker has obtained his alkali solely from kelp, or foreign barilla ; the former being a very impure article, containing only 4 to 6 per cent. of pure alkali, and the latter from 20 to 25 per cent. These substances are very bulky, require much labour to reduce to powder before lixiviation, and were scarcely procurable except at places of import. NOW that common salt (which contains about 50 per cent. of pure soda) is decomposed in many parts of the kingdom, the manufacturer (whether honest or illicit) is furnished with his alkali in a very pure and concentrated state, capable of being conveyed and treated with far greater ease and convenience than substances containing a large proportion of insoluble matter.
" The manuflicturers, it is true, are divided as to the economical advantage of using this article; but such considerations do not occur to the smuggler, who, (if he succeeds in evading the duty on his soap), can afford to pay a far higher price for his raw material than the honest manufacturer."
These are the practices of the smuggler, and the facilities which he possesses at present. To what extent the trade may be carried on, it is difficult to tell. About some facts there is no doubt. It has been computed by several statistical writers, that the consumption of soap
per head is about a week. The consumption of the "duty-paid" commodity in Great Britain is, however, computed at only 62lbs. a year to an individual, being less than is used in workhouses. In
1824, the drawback allowed on exports to Ireland was 1,985/. ; in 1830, it amounted to 82,8751., being a moderate increase in the proportion of 56 to 1.
Such are some of the effects produced by the duty on a manu- facture which, after articles of sustenance, is in more universal use than any other taxed commodity, and the total remission of which would afford more direct relief to the poorer classes than any other duty yielding nearly the same amount of revenue. The alteration proposed by Lord ALTHORP will reduce the price of soap by lad. per lb. It may have a tendency to check the exist- ing frauds; or, by inducing security and remissness, it may afford facilities for their increase. The principal mischiefs of the Ex- cise-laws must still remain. None of the existing regulations could be abolished without risk, although permission might safely be granted to remanufacture inferior products, and some freedom might be given to experimental manufacture. For these reasons, we would earnestly press upon Parliament the propriety of totally repealing the duty, not only as a relief to the consumer and the manufacturer, but in order to give the country the chance of establishing a foreign trade in the commodity, which it is gene- rally believed could be accomplished if it were not for the com- bined effect of the duty and regulations. Lord ALTHORP will plead the revenue. But he possesses a surplus; and though it may not be quite sufficient for the purpose, there is the Army, in -which the new Member for Dundee—after his official experience— last year showed that a reduction of 600,0001. could be readily effected; and there is the Ordnance, where a still greater (corn- .parative) retrenchment seems prima facie capable cf being made. Let any advocate of economy divide the House upon the repeal ; and if—in a Reformed Parliament, pledged to relieve the public burdens—he procures a majority, Ministers will find a way to make up the paltry deficiency the entire remission would create.