HC Deb 29 March 1824 vol 10 cc1448-53

Several petitions were presented for the repeal of the Duties on Coals.

Mr. Newman

supported the prayer of the said petitions, and hoped that the chancellor of the Exchequer would consent to repeal this unjust and partial tax.

Mr. Bennet

said, that the repeal of unjust taxes ought, from day to day, to be forced upon the consideration of his majesty's ministers.

Lord Milton

concurred in his hon. friend's general recommendation, although he doubted if sea-borne coal was the tax which ought first to be taken off. They ought rather to call for the reduction of those taxes which more generally affected the country at large. He admitted, that the coal-tax was in its origin impolitic; but interest had grown up under it, which might require consideration. At all events taxes that pressed more generally ought first to be removed.

Mr. Grenfell

was of a contrary opinion, as to the general principle of taxation. He had no hope that the tax on sea-borne coals would be repealed this year; but the attention of ministers to it ought to be kept constantly alive by petitions.

Mr. N. Calvert

argued, that no tax could be more unjust than one upon a necessary of life, which fell upon a portion of the country only.

Mr. W. Smith

spoke in favour of the prayer of the petition, contending that the tax was most unjust and partial. The city of Norwich suffered severely from it.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, it had not been his intention to have troubled the House at all on this occasion, but he could not withhold a few observations after the appeals which had been made to him. He could not help thinking that hon. gentlemen were mistaken, as to the grounds on which he had proceeded with regard to coals. First, he had never maintained, nor affected to maintain, that the duty on sea-borne coals was not very unequal in its operation, and pressed with peculiar severity on different parts of the country. It was a duty for which, however, the present generation was not at all responsible. It had existed for a century, and he had always thought, that before any step was taken to remove it, some attention ought to be paid to those interests that had grown up under it. He could not repeal the whole duty on coals, without serious prejudice to the interests of parties who ought to be considered but he had never gone the length of saying, that those interests were such as to render the gradual reduction of the tax impossible. Looking at the various items composing the taxation of the country, he had not thought that the duty on coals was one which ought to be repealed to the whole extent, or prior to other taxes pressing with greater severity. He had proposed the repeal of taxes this year, to the amount of a million, conceiving that, taking the country generally, he was consulting its interests better, than if he had relinquished the whole of the duty on coals. At the same time, it had appeared to him, that the coal tax was not only unjust in itself, but pressed with peculiar severity on a particular part of the kingdom; namely, the metropolis and its neighbourhood, because there the duty was considerably more. He had never been able to see any justice in the argument, that the tax there ought to be retained, because the citizens of London, from being more wealthy, were better able to pay it. On such nice calculations as that, taxation could not be regulated. In what he had done, it seemed to him that he had begun at the right end, when he commenced by remedying the aggravated injustice towards the inhabitants of the metropolis. He had, in the first instance, assumed, that the utmost he could spare, for the reduction of this duty, was 100,000l.; and if, instead of repealing 3s. 4d., as he had suggested, he had repealed 1s. generally, upon sea-borne coals, it would have given no relief that would be at all felt by the consumer, and he could not go beyond the 1s. without giving up more of the revenue than he could spare. It seemed impossible, on the other hand, that the consumers in London and its neighbourhood should not be benefitted by the sum per chaldron that he had consented to relinquish, as applied to that district.

Sir M. W. Ridley

said, that when the right hon. gentleman talked of relieving the poor of London, he should protest against the injustice of the measure, which went to continue a tax of 6s. on coals carried coastwise, and a tax of only 1s. a ton on inland coals. This plan was certainly most adverse to those principles of equality of taxation which the right hon. gentleman advocated. The coal-owners of the north wished for no change in their relative position with respect to the owners of inland coals: The duties, before the chancellor of the Exchequer touched them, had been 9s. 4d. per chaldron on sea-borne coals, and 7s. per ton (which was equal to 9s. 4d. per chaldron) on inland coals, and now the chancellor of the Exchequer came with his principles of" just and equal taxation," and reduced the duty on one to 6s. per chaldron, and on the other to Is. per ton. He would* shortly after the Easter recess, submit a motion to the House for the reduction of the duty on coal carried coastwise.

Mr. Littleton

said, that when the question came to be argued, he should be ready to maintain the justice and policy of the plan of reduction proposed by the chancellor of the Exchequer; or he should rather shew, that the duty of 1s. per ton still continued on inland coals was a shilling too much. Where was-the justice of imposing upon inland coals a tax originally imposed only on coals carried coastwise, when those inland coals were also burthened with the enormous dues paid to the canal companies, and sanctioned by acts of parliament? For what did it matter to the owners of inland coals, whether the duties with which they were, by act of parliament, burthened, went to canal companies, or to the government? The inland coals were, even with the reduced duty, so heavily burthened, that there was no danger of their coming into competition with sea-borne coals. Formerly, the same duty was imposed on the ton of 20 cwt. of inland coals brought into London, as on the chaldron of 27 cwt. of sea-borne coals; and when, a few years ago, it was proposed to equalize the duty on the ton to the duty on the chaldron, the hon. baronet was among the most strenuous opponents of that equitable measure.

Mr. S. Worthy

said, he should be glad to hear his hon friend prove the justice of laying a tax of 6s. on one sort of coal, and 1s. on another, so as to give 5s.bounty in favour of the worse and dearer sort of coals.

Mr. Hume

said, he was prepared to state to the chancellor of the Exchequer a mode in which he could conciliate both parties; namely, by taking off the duties as well on sea-borne as upon inland coals. This was the best way of putting them on an equality, and it was a wiser course than to apply six millions annually to buy up three per cents at 95. If he would give up the Sinking Fund he might reduce the whole of the coal tax, and the whole of the window and house tax. For what purpose was the sinking Fund maintained? to support the funded interest. But the funded interest needed no such support. The reduction of the taxes to the amount he had stated, would be received with the greatest satisfaction; and he had no doubt, if all those gentlemen who now spoke so strongly in behalf of their several petitions, would come down and support a specific motion on the subject, the chancellor of the Exchequer would find it perfectly convenient to carry the measure into effect.

Lord Milton

complained of the policy which government had pursued upon this question. They had given up a revenue amounting to 800,000l. annually, and in so doing had benefited a particular class of the community, residing within certain limited geographical boundaries. Now, when government remitted taxation, they should take care that the relief which they granted should be of a general, and not of a partial description.

Sir John Newport

could not agree with his noble friend. His noble friend seemed to have forgotten, that the particular class of the community to which he had alluded had, for nearly a century past, been aggrieved by the unjust and partial operation of the coal duties; and surely his noble friend would not argue, that it was not entitled to relief, because it had submitted patiently for many years to the grievance which had been imposed upon it. He must contend that the chancellor of the Exchequer was only performing an act of justice in equalizing the operation of the coal-duties in all parts of the country.

Mr. Maberly

thought, that the country gentlemen were not dealing fairly with the chancellor of the Exchequer upon this occasion. It was rather inconsistent in those who had supported the system of a sinking fund, now to come forward and tell the adviser of it, that they would not bear the taxes by which that sinking fund was to be supported. It was consistent enough in his hon. friend, the member for Aberdeen, and himself to press for a repeal of taxes, because they had always opposed the scheme of a sinking fund; but as for the hon. gentlemen who now called for a repeal of taxes, after supporting the sinking fund, where, he would ask, was their consistency?

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, he felt that, from the manner in which the resolution respecting coals had been carried, the parties interested in them had lost the opportunity which they were fairly entitled to, of stating the objections which could be urged against them. If, therefore, the hon. member for Newcastle wished to move for the re-commitment of those resolutions, he should throw no objection in the way of it, and in the committee the hon. member might bring forward his statement. Thursday was the earliest day that was open, and if the hon. baronet would move for the re-commitment of the resolutions on that day, he should throw no obstacle in the way of the motion.

Mr. Alderman Wood

thought, that when it was considered how long and how unjustly the people of London had been taxed in the article of coals, and the misery to which the poor had been often reduced for want of fuel, no gentleman could object to the reduction. There had been ten millions of money levied unjustly on the people of London under this tax, which originally had been imposed for a special purpose.

Sir M. W. Ridley

said, he had no objection to Thursday as the day for re-committing the resolutions. He begged again to say, that he had no wish to impose any additional tax on inland coals. He only wished the two descriptions of coal to be kept in the same relative situations in which they had hitherto stood.

Ordered to lie on the table.