§ Sir M. W. Ridley
presented a petition from the proprietors of collieries on the rivers Tyne and Wear; setting forth:
"That it being generally understood that a proposition will be shortly submitted to parliament for altering the existing duties on coals, the petitioners humbly beg leave to state their situation, for the information and consideration of the House, that they have an immense capital embarked in their mines, from which they raise a much larger quantity of coals than the markets now open to the petitioners can take off, burthened as they are by the existing duties; that this surplus amounts, in many collieries, to more than one fourth of the whole quantity worked (making a total upon both rivers, of about 400,000 London chaldrons), which is wholly lost to the proprietor and the public, being from its want of size of inferior value, and not transportable on account of these duties; that the repeal of these duties would cause this surplus to be distributed around the coast, and into the interior of the country, greatly to the advantage of the shipping, agricultural, and manufacturing interests, and to the immediate relief of the poorer classes of those districts where, under the present system, they feel the pressure of taxation in the direct pro- 50 portion of the difficulty they have in procuring an article essentially necessary to their health and comfort; that these duties on coals exported from the Tyne at the London market amount to 10s. 8d., and at the coasting markets to 6s. 6d.; and on coals exported from the Wear to 10s. 2d. at the former market, and to 6s. at the latter, per London chaldron; that the highest price charged by the coal-owners upon the Tyne and Wear for coals put on board is 16s. 6d. and the lowest 8s. per London chaldron for housekeepers coals, making the general average upon all the sorts of coal less than 13s. per London chaldron; that any addition to that price to the consumer depends on circumstances over which the petitioners have no control, and in the advantages to be derived from which they do not participate; that the petitioners are aware that an impression exists that there is a combination among them by which the price of coals in London has been kept up beyond the fair and free competition price; this the petitioners deny; for, on the contrary, the effect of the regulations in their trade, necessary for their mutual protection and convenience, has been, to keep the London market fully supplied, and the price so low that the inland coal-owners cannot compete with the petitioners without a suspension in their favour of the just principle of equal taxation, which was recognized by the legislature in the act passed in 1805 for allowing a limited quantity of canal coals to be brought to the port of London, upon payment of equal duties with the sea-borne coals; that the petitioners are convinced that the existing duties are the chief grievance that the consumers have to complain of and that these duties are a partial and impolitic tax upon the capital and industry of the Northern counties, and of all places to which seaborne coals can be transported, from which they ought to be relieved; the petitioners therefore pray and humbly pray, that the House will be pleased to make such arrangements as will at no distant period secure to the petitioners and the consumers of coals the benefits of a free trade, and that in the meantime, in considering any regulations that may be proposed for securing to London a supply of this necessary article of life, the House will not abandon the principles of equal taxation and free competition, nor permit the introduction of inland coals without subjecting them to equal duties with the sea-borne coals."
§ The House having resolved itself into a committee on the coal acts,
§ Sir M. W. Ridley
observed, that the petition which he had just presented from the coal-owners of the North embraced the principle which he felt it his duty to support. The question he wished to bring under their consideration was extremely important; and he requested the attention of the committee, for a short time, while he laid down the grounds on which the proposition he intended to conclude with was founded. His object was, that the alterations proposed to be made by the chancellor of the Exchequer in the coal duties should be re-considered, before they were ultimately carried into effect. Those alterations would he was convinced, considerably injure the coal-trade of London, if not of the country at large, and were, as it appeared to him, founded on an absurd and unjust principle of taxation. He was sure that no one who had heard the right hon. gentleman, when he detailed to the House the financial situation of the country, or who had read the speech which he made on that occasion, could feel other sensations than those of pleasure at the recognition of the principles of free trade by which that speech was distinguished—principles which were then generally approved of and asserted. But in proportion as he felt pleased at that exposition, did he afterwards feel dissatisfied when he found that the right hon. gentleman had so soon forgotten the principles of equal taxation, and adopted a partial and unfair system with respect to two commodities of the same kind. When the right hon. gentleman, at the period to which he had alluded, expressed his intention of making an alteration in the duty on rum, he had said, "It is my intention to propose a reduction in the duty on rum, so as to relieve it from one of the peculiar difficulties under which it labours, by reducing that duty to the level of the duty on British spirits. No one, I presume, can think it desirable to reduce the duty on rum lower than the duty on spirits produced by British distillation. All that can be done with propriety is, to put them on the same footing! I propose, therefore, to make a reduction of one shilling and three half-pence a gallon in the duty on rum." Here was a principle of fair and. just taxation laid down in one instance; and he could not conceive why, in legislating on another, the right hon. gentleman had thought fit to 52 deviate from that principle. Why, instead, of pursuing this system of equality, he had chosen to exempt from taxation one species of coal, while he placed a harsh and unjust impost on another, he could not conceive. It was the right hon. gentleman's duty to legislate for the general interest. The agricultural interest and the distilling interest were affected by the alteration in the duty on rum. The right hon. gentleman on this point had said, "I am aware, that there are circumstances connected with the practice of levying the duty according to the strength of the spirit, which may prevent our bringing the two descriptions of spirits to exactly the same point of equalization? but then it ought to be recollected by those who are interested in the question, that the distillers of British spirits are also liable to the malt duty. So that I believe, where the whole is taken together, the difference between these two interests may be considered as fairly balanced by the proposed reduction. Whether or not this diminution of duty will have any important effect upon the dealings in rum I do not know. It may be said, that it will not do much for the West Indies; perhaps not. But I know that the reduction is sound in principle; and I am always ready to adopt a measure that is sound in principle, even though I do not anticipate any extensive benefit from it in the first instance, because I am satisfied that its result cannot be bad. A measure sound in principle may, or rather it must, ultimately lead to good. If we cannot do all we would, let us do all we can."* Now, if the principle were a sound and good one, he should be glad to know why the right hon. gentleman had, in another case, acted on a very different principle? He should be glad to know why one body of persons dealing in a necessary of life, should be favoured more than another body occupied in the selfsame trade? Was it for the benefit of the consumer? If it was, the right hon. gentleman must carry the principle further. He must repeal, at once, if it were possible, the entire duty on coals. The consumer would then indeed be considerably benefitted; and no party would have just cause for complaint. Let the right hon. gentleman, in legislating on this question, not confine himself to one party. Let him consider not only the situation of the inland coal trade,* See Vol. x. p. 324.53 but the state, also, of the coal trade in the north. It must be known to all, that the northern owners had coals of various descriptions, many of them of an inferior quality, and which fetched an inferior price—just as was the case with inland coals—but they paid on those inferior coals precisely the same duty as was levied on the best that came to market. Now, if the right hon. gentleman meant to bring into competition with a good article a commodity of inferior quality, there certainly ought to be an equal portion of tax taken off, so as to reduce the two articles to something like a level.
The right hon. gentleman had observed, that the interests which had grown up under the existing coal system were such as to prevent him from proposing a plan by which, on this point, an act of general relief, and of strict justice to the whole country, might be effected. He had, however, yet to learn what those interests were. The general interests of the public surely were not to be sacrificed to any particular interest; and, when the right hon. gentleman spoke of particular interests, he must have recollected, that they had only sprung up, under the present duties, in the course of a century. The subject of the introduction of inland coals had always attracted the attention of the northern coal-owners; and they had constantly resisted any attempt to bring those coals into the market, by the operation of any measure that would act as a protecting duty. To prove that government had always viewed with a favourable eye, the coal coasting trade, the hon. baronet read an extract from the letter of a gentleman intimately acquainted with the subject, in which, and after several prefatory observations, he declared, that "the coal-owners had been taught that government would never cease to protect the coasting trade." He also cited a letter from Mr. Ward to the secretary of the coal trade, in which that gentleman stated "that stations should be appointed, and duties, equal to the coasting duties, levied on inland coal." This clearly showed the existence of a feeling on the part of the government, that the northern owners were likely to be injured by the introduction of inland coals, except under certain regulations. The right hon. gentleman had spoken of the useless, unmeaning, and preposterous restriction on the importation of inland coal, which operated as a prohibition. He agreed with the right hon. gentleman, 54 that it did operate as a prohibition; and it might, he conceived, be removed at the present moment, an equivalent relief being granted to the northern owners. In 1805, as a protection to the sea-borne coal, it was found necessary to charge a duty of 10s. 2d. a ton on coals of a certain quality, brought by the canal, which was equal to the duty of 9s. 4d. a chaldron paid on seaborne coals. On that occasion, a minute was written by a right hon. gentleman then in the Treasury, the recollection of which would, perhaps, induce him to lend the northern owners a hand, instead of overturning that which he had himself assisted to build up. In that minute, dated the 6th of April, 1805, the right hon. gentleman observed "That the sale of coals brought by the Grand Junction Canal must, of necessity, excite the jealousy of those who brought sea-borne coals;" and he expressed his confident hope that the former would not be allowed "to interfere with so valuable a branch of British navigation."
He would now refer to certain language which the chancellor of the Exchequer had held when he first touched on this subject—language which, coming from such high authority, must have had the effect of conveying impressions very unfavourable to a highly respectable class of men. He could not, however, bring himself to believe that such was the intention of the right hon. gentleman. The right hon. gentleman had declared, that he would remit 3s. 4d. per chaldron on coals brought to the London market. Now, before he proceeded further, he might be allowed to say, that he himself had no objection whatever to this reduction of duty. On the contrary, he wished that more should be taken off; but he was by no means sure that the measure was satisfactory to the people of London. He had seen a series of resolutions passed at a meeting of merchants, bankers, and traders of the city of London, who were desirous that the 3s. 4d. should be retained, for the purpose of improving the metropolis. The right hon. gentleman, by taking off 3s. 4d. from the duty on seaborne coal, and by making a much larger reduction in the duty payable on inland coal, did, in fact, introduce a system of unjust because unequal, taxation; because he treated with marked difference the same commodity coming from different parts of the same country. The right hon. gentleman had confidently stated 55 that "such a regulation would have a beneficial effect. It will put an end to the power which those who engage in this trade now possess, in common with all monopolists, to enhance the price of coals beyond their fair value, by stating the supply, and proportioning it to their own interests rather than to the wants of the consumer." This was a point, respecting the coal trade, which appeared to be understood. It was said, that there was a regulation amongst the coal-owners to limit the quantity of coals sent to London. Now, he begged leave to state to the committee—and he would, if necessary, prove the fact at the bar of the House,—that there was no regulation between the coal-owners, directly or indirectly, the quantity of coals sent to London. All the regulations they entered into had for their object to make the best of their time and the most of their capital. The coals supplied by Shields and Newcastle were taken from 56 collieries, the property of 150 proprietors. They gave employment, food and raiment, to not less than 100,000 persons. They were prohibited by sea-duties from carrying coals into the foreign market. A considerable quantity of coals was, from the very nature of the trade, annually wasted. If they could intro duce small coals into the London market—and they would answer every bit as well as large-it would be a very great advantage to them: but while the large coal was so entirely preferred in London, small coal could not be brought in, and they were not allowed to export it. The only regulation which the owners had, with respect to the London market, was, that the quantity assignable to the metropolis should be in certain proportions, and at certain times; but nothing whatsoever existed to limit the quantity which it might be found expedient to send to the London market. The coal-owners were a little too far north to be so blind to their own interest. Those who were acquainted with the colliery business must I know, that the expense of the owner must, in many respects, be the same, whether the quantity of coal he raised was great or small. Therefore it was clear, that the more he shipped to London, the greater must be his profit.
To prove that the supply of coals for the London market was not so limited as to enhance the price, even supposing for argument's sake, that such a regulation existed as that which had been alluded to, 56 he would call the attention of the House to a document which he held in his hand. For many years the price charged by the coal-owners had not been raised. At length a rise from 2s. to 4s. took place. But, it must be observed, that the charge which was made in the London market depended on the coal duties, over which the coal-owners had no control. He held in his hand an account of the number of ships at market, for every day during the year 1823, and it appeared from that document, that there were but five days in the whole year, when the entire supply of coals in the market was brought up. There were on the first day of each month, the following ships left unsold:—In January 250, February 104, March 250, April 126, May 116, June 44, July 72, August 126, September 156, October 97, November 43, December 569. Here it appeared that there was, in some instances, a supply of 250 ships unsold in the market. The legislature had thought proper, for the security of the consumer to appoint certain officers denominated meters, whose duty it was, to see that the coals were properly delivered; but, it very often happened, that, for want of meters, the ships could not deliver their cargoes. To prove this fact, the hon. baronet read an account, from which it appeared, that at different periods in the year 1823, there were from 10 to 265 ships waiting for meters.
Having stated thus much in defence of the coal-owners, he should merely state, that the object which he had in view, in the resolutions which he was about to-propose, was, to put the two trades on an equality, as he supposed the right hon. gentleman had intended. He wished to leave untouched a wholesome and just principle, that of equality of taxation, so far as regarded two dealers in the same commodity. The hon. baronet concluded by reading the following resolutions:—"1. That the present duties on coals, culm, and cinders, carried coastwise, or by inland navigation, from any port or place, to any place in the county of Middlesex or Hertford, shall cease and determine, and that the following duties shall be hereafter paid thereon, viz.—on coals, culm, and cinders, in case such are usually sold by weight, 4s. 6d. per ton. and in case such coals, culm, and cinders are usually sold by measure, 6s. per chaldron, That all coals, culm, and cinders, navigated by the Grand-Junction or Paddington 57 canal, coming near the stone, or post, at Grove bank; or if by the Thames, coming up to the City stone, shall pay, if usually sold by weight, 3s. per ton. and if by measure, 4s. 6d. per chaldron; Second, that, next year, a further reduction of duty to the amount of 2s. shall take place. And third, that it is expedient that the said duties be totally, but gradually repealed."
§ The first resolution having been moved,
§ Mr. Littleton
said, that if he thought that any benefit could possibly arise from the hon. baronet's recommendation, he would be the very last man to object to it. When the duty on coals carried coastwise was first projected, the principles of political economy were not so well known as they were at present. It was then felt, that coals borne by sea had a very great advantage over those which were carried by land; and it should be observed, that at that period the conveyance by canal was extremely limited. The sea was an open navigation; it afforded advantages not possessed by any other mode of conveyance, and therefore duties were imposed on that species of carriage. In 1805, when the Grand Junction canal was finished, it was deemed proper to place a heavy duty on coals carried through that channel. This he looked upon as a great injustice. If it were intended to place a tax on inland coals, why was it confined to only part of the inland trade, whilst every other portion of it was suffered to remain untaxed? There were hundreds of places where inland coal came in competition with the sea-borne coal. Here only it was excluded. If the right hon. gentleman did not repeal the tax in this solitary instance, the owners of inland coal had a much greater right to complain of injustice than the northern coal-owners This tax on inland coal was imposed in 1805. At that period, the Grand-Junction company had nearly completed their undertaking. The northern coal-owners, afraid that inland coal would be brought to their market by that canal, contrived, that a clause, which prevented the importation of such coal, should be introduced, under the mask of protecting the revenue. Those gentlemen, not content with preventing inland coal from coming into the London market, as the sea-coal did, procured the insertion of a provision in the bill, which gave to their coals a monopoly, not merely of the London market, but of the country, for seventeen miles round it. 58 The hon. baronet had neglected to state the price of each sort of coals. No doubt he depended on the principle; but, the scale of prices was necessary for the elucidation of the question. His (Mr. L's) object was, to show the House the cost of a certain quantity of inland coals at Paddington, the cost of a certain quantity of sea-borne coal in the pool, and then to prove, that the freight, charges, and king's duty were far heavier on the inland than on the sea-borne coal. The freight and other small charges on Stewart or Wall's-end coals, as compared with the prime cost, was as 11 to 17; and on Staffordshire coals, as 29½ to 18. The amount of king's duty and other trifling charges on Newcastle coals, was as 13 to 17; on inland coals, including the London duty, it was as 19 to 18. So that on both these heads of charges, as compared with the prime cost, the inland coals were taxed infinitely more than the sea coals. The charge for tonnage on the inland coals was also worthy of notice. On a quantity of coals, which cost 18l., the tonnage charge would be 30l. or 31l., being 163 per cent on the prime cost of the article. No person needs be surprised at the small quantity of inland coal introduced to the London market, from the year 1807 to the year 1815. During that period, only 50,000 tons had been navigated beyond the stone in lord Clarendon's Park. In 1814, 1815, and 1816, there were 4,359 tons of inland coal brought to the London market. In 1821 1,359 tons; in 1822, 912 tons: in 1823, 663 tons. Some apprehensions were entertained, that the facilities afforded by the Grand-Junction canal would operate most prejudicially against the northern coal-owners by admitting the importation of a large quantity of inland coal to the London market; but he would ask whether, on the contrary, that work had not been more advantageous to them than to any other body of men? They had an opportunity of sending their coals from the Thames to the interior by that channel, instead of being compelled to use waggon carriage; which was far more expensive? They had thus an exclusive monopoly through a country extending from twenty-five to thirty miles. The hon. baronet's constituents stood, therefore, in a much better situation than his (Mr. L's) did. It ought not to be overlooked, that the northern coal-owners had, and probably always would have, an unvarying demand 59 for their coals for domestic purposes—a matter of no small importance. The coal proprietors of the north, even under the circumstances of which they complained, would have an overpowering advantage over the inland proprietors, and one which the latter would never, probably be able to surmount. With the duty reduced, as it was to be, or even reduced still further, the inland coals could never come, in any great quantity, into the market of London; nor did the inland proprietors imagine that in the long run, they could resist the gradual reduction of the duty on coals from the north. He, for himself, spoke without the smallest personal interest; and, so far, was differently circumstanced from hon. members on the other side, who would be likely to address the committee upon the subject. He should certainly sit down by opposing the proposition of the hon. baronet.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said, he felt himself bound, in justice to the hon. baronet opposite, and his friends, to say a few words in explanation of the remark attributed to him on a former evening. The words quoted against him, as to monopolies, were correct; but the spirit of them had been a little mistaken. They had been used, he believed, with reference to some part of a petition, complaining of combination, presented by one of the hon. members for the city of London; certainly, without any intention of casting a slur upon individuals. Because, in fact, if the legislature had given the northern coal-owners a practical monopoly, no one could blame them for availing themselves of it All he had said was this—that if they had by law the practical power of a monopoly, might it not be fit to alter the state of the law, whether they actually made use of that power or not? With respect to the reduction which he had proposed in the duty upon inland coal, he was desirous, in fact, only to rectify a kind of mistake that had been committed. The existing law restricted the importation of inland coal into London to annually 50,000 tons. It appeared, therefore, that the law thought that, with safety to the northern interests, 50,000 tons might actually be admitted: but the duty which this coal paid prevented 50,000 tons, or a tenth part of 50,000 tons, from being sent; so that, in fact, it made the resolution as to the quantity which might come altogether nugatory, and imposed 60 a hardship which, it was evident, the legislature had not intended. The hon. baronet said, that the reason the inland coal could not bear a high duty was, its inferior quality; and that if the duty upon it was to be lowered, it ought also to be lowered upon the inferior sea coal, which paid the same duties at present as the dearest coal at market. But, there were reasons, independent of its quality, why the inland coal could not bear high duty; namely, the heavy tonnage which it paid, for instance, to the canal companies—a charge from which the northern coal was altogether free. And, after all, what was it that the northern coal proprietors were alarmed at? Could their London sale of 1,400,000 chaldrons a year be much endangered by an inland sale of 50,000 tons? In fact, their demand had been rather increasing ever since the peace; and now there was to be a reduction of price to the consumer, unless the consumer was defeated by some combination which the legislature was practically unable to resist. They had a growing market, and a reduced duty; and what more could they well desire? The right hon. gentleman sat down with observing, that he certainly could not go the length of pledging himself to get rid of the coast duties on coals within the next three years, because, independent of any question of policy, the revenue could not afford to lose the money. He could not, at present, spare 900,000l. a-year. It was possible he might be wrong in his view of the best mode of dealing with the surplus which the country had disposeable; but he could not assent to a proposal which would go to destroy the whole foundation he had built upon. For these reasons, he objected to the resolutions of the hon. baronet.
§ Mr. Cuthbert Ellison
denied the existence of any combination among the coal-owners of the north, and trusted that no one would continue to impute it to them, after the manner in which it had been disavowed. The reduction proposed by the chancellor of the Exchequer, in the duty upon inland coal, seemed to him not to be justified upon any sound principle. The fluctuation which took place in the price of coals in the London market, arose out of causes with which the pit-owners had nothing to do. They arose almost entirely in the pool, and might be checked, in a considerable degree, by a change of the city regulations.
§ Sir John Wrottesley
was sorry to see an opposition to the chancellor of the Exchequer's intention in favour of the inland coal, because most of the persons interested in that proposed measure had left town, not anticipating any resistance to it. At present, the House would see that the duty on inland coal amounted to a prohibition; for such a quantity as 900 or 1,200 tons in a year could have no view to general consumption, and, in fact, was only brought to London for certain specific purposes. Surely, if there was any likelihood of combination among the coal-owners of the north, the true way to defeat it was, to give every facility to the inland coal-owners; among whom the mode of working made combination impossible. He admitted, that very little of the inland coal, under any circumstances, would come into the London market; but it was fair to the coal-owner, as well as for the advantage of the consumer, that it should have the power, up to a certain point, of coming there. At present, however, the Staffordshire proprietors were actually in apprehension that the northern owners would not merely keep possession of London, but compete with them in their own markets.
§ Mr. Stuart Wortley
said, that the northern coal-owners asked for no advantage over the inland proprietors, except the advantage which they had received from nature. They had the best article to sell, and the cheapest; and all they required was, to be let alone with it. They asked for no duties to be imposed upon others; they only wished to be relieved from unreasonable duties which were imposed upon themselves. Now, hon. gentlemen talked of the antiquity of those duties. Certainly, they had lasted a great deal too long: but would any one argue that they had ever been imposed upon any thing like a principle of trade, or with any other view than that of extracting revenue from a commodity which was supposed to be well calculated to afford it? Was the House aware that the average price of coals was 13s. a chaldron at Newcastle; some were as high as 16s., but some were low; so that 13s. was a high average; and that these coals paid a duty of more than 12s. 6d. a chaldron? He repeated, that the sea coals wanted no advantage or protection. They only wanted to be left to themselves. He desired no limitation as to the quantity of Staffordshire coal brought to London. 62 Let the restriction be taken off: but then, if the sea coal could go cheaper than the inland coal to Berkshire or Oxfordshire, why so much the better for the consumer, and the inland coal-owner ought not to complain. Let the duties, which now pressed unfairly upon the northern proprietors, be taken off, and they would realize the apprehension of the inland owners—they would supply those places. The proposition, that the inland coal was entitled to pay a less duty in London than the sea coal, because it came to town by a more chargeable road, and because there were more expenses in bringing it, was one of the most extraordinary to which he had ever listened. Upon exactly the same principle, a tax might be laid upon Kent or Essex wheat, to balance the additional cost which attended wheat coming from Yorkshire. This certainly was a little opposed to the doctrines of free trade; but, if the course was to be taken with regard to one article, he hoped it would be taken with respect to another; and that the Essex wheat would be charged with a duty for the benefit of Yorkshire. But, in fact, he knew what had led the chancellor of the Exchequer to this measure in favour of the inland coal-owners. The right hon. gentleman had been misled by a cry of monopoly in the north; where the proprietors certainly had a monopoly, for they had an article which could never be driven out of the market. It could not be supposed that the coal proprietors of the north were afraid of the chancellor of the Exchequer's measure at present; but they were afraid, and fairly so, of the principle on which it proceeded. The measure, at this moment, could do the sea coal-owners no hurt; but circumstances might arise under which it would do them hurt. At present, take the proposed duty off, and the inland coals would not come; but the duty was taken off to cover the greater expense, to the inland coal, of carriage. Suppose a war, or the rumour of a war, which doubled the freight and insurance of the sea coal—in what situation would those who dealt in it stand then? The hon. member then commented upon the usefulness, at least, of protecting the sea-coal trade, on account of the nursery which it formed for our seamen.
§ Mr. W. Courtenay
wished that a tax so full of extreme hardship and impolicy, raised upon one of the essential articles; of life, could be entirely done away with He expatiated upon the benefits which a 63 total repeal of it would confer on the western counties, where all enterprise in manufacture was checked at present by the weight of these unequal duties. He could not determine whether or not the plan of reduction proposed by his right hon. friend was the best which could possibly be adopted, with a view to a gradual and total repeal.
said, that the argument had been almost entirely conducted, as if it only referred to a struggle or competition between the Staffordshire and the northern coal-owners about the monopoly of the London market. The fact was, that there could not, in the nature of things, be any such question. There was no competition, there could be none, between the two classes of coals; so great were the natural advantages on one side. As proofs of the truth of this assertion, the committee had only to notice what was the effect of the competition, slight as it was, which already existed. The northern coals which came into the ports of London ascended the Thames, charged with all these extraordinary and unequal duties, as high as the stone at Staines; they went on to Windsor, and even as far as Reading, where they met the inland coals, charged with no duty whatever. Now, let the committee observe the result of this conflict. The inland coals could not keep the markets into which the northern coals entered, charged with the heavy duties, and the extraordinary expense of freight incurred in ascending the Thames; but they were pushed back into their own domicile, where alone they could get and keep any steady rate of consumption. A good fire was, doubtless, a very comfortable thing: but, was not plenty of light also a very comfortable thing? For his part, if it were a matter of choice with him, he could not hesitate a moment in preferring light to fire. He would, therefore, prefer the repeal of the window-tax to the repeal of the coal duties. It was difficult to manage questions of this kind with the chancellor of the Exchequer. He well recollected the hon. member for Surrey saying, on a former occasion, with respect to the coal duties, that he had a substitute to propose in his pocket, but he would not take it out, for fear the chancellor of the Exchequer should not only retain the tax, but add the substitute to it. In all probability, that substitute was a duty at the pit's mouth; and if so, he advised all 64 sides to join in expressing their content at the remission of any part of the duty; for, assuredly, nothing could be more detrimental to the interests of coal-owners, whether in Staffordshire or Northumberland, than the duty at the pit's mouth. Therefore, though he would have preferred the repeal of some tax of more general and impartial operation, and the abolition of which would have been more consonant with the principles of free trade, he advised the committee to rest contented, rather than put the question in danger, by pressing his right hon. friend too far.
§ Lord Milton
said, he would have given the preference to the repeal of either the window or malt duty. He could not compliment either the justice or the policy of this repeal. It appeared to him to be as objectionable to proceed by favour, in the repeal of taxes, as in their imposition. The right hon. gentleman seemed in this affair to have acted as if he had a surplus revenue of 100,000l. with which he actually did not know what to do. It was true that this was originally a very unequal tax; but, how long had it continued? For more than a century. Capital had accommodated itself in the mean time to the tax, and that capital would produce as much in the western counties as it would in the northern at this or any other time. If the chancellor of the Exchequer was able to remit 100,000l. of the public taxes, London and its neighbourhood could have no more right to the repeal than the rest of the country. As to the boon intended for the western counties, in remitting the duty on sea-borne coal, he must look at it with suspicion. It was intended as a trap to catch the worthy gentlemen who were connected with those counties: and if the bait should take, undoubtedly it must be a desirable thing for the right hon. gentleman. For, though those counties were not flowing with coals and iron, they were abundantly flowing with members of parliament: the population of Cornwall, which was little more than 200,000, returning more members than York and Lancaster, with two millions of people. But why should the House proceed in the repeal of taxes by parallels of latitude and longitude, instead of the great principles, of justice policy, and free trade?
§ Mr. N. Calvert
objected to the strange proposition of the noble lord, that because a tax of most unjust imposition had continued for a long time, it was not, therefore a less proper subject for repeal. He 65 preferred the repeal of the coal duties to that of the remaining window tax, which was paid chiefly by the rich; and hoped to see the coal duties entirely done away.
Sir T. Lethbridge
pressed for the repeal of the malt or window tax, in preference to the duty on coals, and complained, in strong terms of the monopoly enjoyed by the proprietors of coal pits.
§ Mr. Lambton
said, that having a great personal interest in the present question—a much greater interest, perhaps, than any of the hon. gentlemen who had preceded him—he certainly would best consult his own feelings by remaining entirely silent. He, however, rose in consequence of some observations that had been made, to state a few facts, in justification of the proprietors of coal mines in the North, He was induced to do so in consequence of what had fallen from the chancellor of the Exchequer, and, in still stronger terms from the hon. baronet below him. He would state, in the name of those gentlemen, that there was no foundation whatever for the charge, that the proprietors of coal mines in the North had entered into any combination to limit the supply of coals in the London market. Whatever resolutions they had entered into were not for the purpose of limiting the supply, but for the purpose of insuring to the city of London, a regular and constant supply of coals, at every season of the year. In confirmation of the truth of that assertion he would appeal to the increased supply of each year. On every market day there were more ships in the river than there were purchasers. The proprietors of the coal-mines in the North looked not for monopoly—they disclaimed all monopoly—they never aspired to it—the existence of monopoly was as odious in their eyes, as in the eyes of any member in that House. The monopoly which had been created, had been created by the government, for its own purposes, and not to serve the proprietors of coal-mines. Those gentlemen did not seek to retain any monoply. All they asked for was a clear stage and no favour. They wished to bring coals to the London market on fair terms. He thought it was hard that those gentlemen should be driven out of the London market without having an opportunity afforded to them of exporting their coals to foreign ports. There were no less than 400,000 chaldrons of inferior coals allowed to rot in the North 66 because they could not be exported abroad, in consequence of the high rate of duties to which they were subjected. If these coals could be exported, instead of going to utter waste, they would bring in a fair return to the owners—while the exportation of the article would employ a number of ships, and many thousands of seamen. The hon. member concluded by disclaiming upon the part of the proprietors of coal-mines in the North all idea of monopoly.
§ Sir T. Acland
supported the plan of the chancellor of the Exchequer and hoped that it would lead to the entire repeal of the coal duties.
§ Mr. Money
said, there were two points to which he hoped the attention of the right hon. gentleman would be directed. The first was, the importance of the coal-trade as a nursery for seamen, and as one of the chief sources of the strength of the British navy. The other was the advantages experienced by the port of London from the quantity of ballast which was taken from the bed of the river for the use of the colliers on their homeward voyages. He trusted that care would be taken that nothing in the operation of the proposed resolutions would affect cither of these important topics.
§ Mr. H. Sumner
thought the coal-trade had a paramount claim to relief, and trusted that the chancellor of the Exchequer would, whenever the opportunity should occur, extend it as far as possible beyond what was now proposed.
§ Mr. Alderman Bridges
said, an hon. baronet had been mistaken in supposing that the proposed reduction of the duty was considered by the city of London as a trifling matter. The reason which had induced them to wish that some part of the London port duty should be retained, arose from their wish to embellish and improve the city by widening streets and turning corners; to which purposes the sums raised by those duties were applied.
begged it might be understood, that the reduction in the duty was an advantage to the public, and not confined, as had been stated, to the coal owners. It had already had an effect on the bargains, and there could be no doubt that the public would be benefitted to the whole extent of the 3s. 4d.
§ The committee then divided on the first resolution: for the resolution 51 Against it 83. On the second resolution: for the resolution 54 Against it 80. On 67 the third resolution: for the resolution 60 Against it 73.