HC Deb 17 February 1831 vol 2 cc643-52
Mr. O'Brien

observed, that the tax on Steam-boats had every attribute of a bad tax, and would have the effect on the poor of his country (Ireland) of making it a question whether they should be allowed to earn their bread in England or not. He sincerely hoped it would not be persevered in.

Mr. Wilks

expressed a similar opinion. Me had received many communications from Lincolnshire, denouncing the tax, and he advised Ministers to consult amongst each other as to the necessity for withdrawing it. The tax would have the most injurious effect in preventing men from seeking employment at a distance, and would increase the distress of the labourers by circumscribing the market for their labour.

Mr. Hume

stated, that the invention of steam-vessels had, in a great measure, compensated on the coast of Scotland, for the injury which had been inflicted on the kelp manufacturers by the loss of their employment. There were no less than from thirty to forty steam-boats plying daily between Greenock and the adjacent coasts of Scotland, nor could ten or fifteen minutes elapse without a steam-boat coming in or going out of that port. The result was, that the whole of the coast to the south of the Clyde had become active; the inhabitants had turned their labour towards cultivating small gardens, with the produce of which the markets of Glasgow were supplied; nor, in his opinion, could any tax more injurious to the industry of that part of Scotland be devised. When it was recollected, that by the aid of steamboats, we had brought Edinburgh and London within forty-seven miles of each other—he meant forty-seven hours journey the advantage gained by that improvement was so great and so evident, that nobody could misunderstand it, and nobody ought to wish to diminish it. There was scarcely any thing he would not rather do than assent to the tax in question; and he felt convinced, that if it were to be imposed, the Table of that House would very soon be crowded with petitions, from those parts of Scotland to which he had referred, against it.

Mr. Cutlar Ferguson

observed, that all the industry of the western coast of Scotland had been called into action by steam, and had since been supported by it. The tax would not fall upon the proprietors of steam-vessels, but on those who availed themselves of that mode of conveyance.

Mr. Sadler

wished to say one word as to the policy of this tax, and would put it to the noble Lord, whether Ireland had not peculiar claims to a cheap and easy ingress into England, and whether it would not be more consonant to justice to restrain, by some legislative measure, the culpable emigration of the proprietors of Ireland, who drew so much from her, and repaid her nothing. It was, in his opinion, an act of gross injustice to throw any impediment in the way of the Irish labourers in their endeavours to resort for employment to this country. The tax would be a means of preventing communication between the two countries; it would prevent the consolidation of the Union, and he therefore should wish that it might not be enforced.

Mr. Ewart

said, the tax would prove most prejudicial to Liverpool, and ought not to be persevered in.

Mr. James Grattan

observed, that the tax on the passage by steam would be considered in Ireland as an attempt to prevent the emigration of Irish labourers into England, and would excite feelings that, under the present circumstances of the country, ought to be avoided. They would, however, still be enabled to avail themselves of colliers and sailing-boats for-that purpose.

Sir Robert Bateson

implored the noble Lord not to lay on that tax, if hit only motive for so doing was the revenue to be derived from it. To Ireland it would do inconceivable mischief, by exciting the easily irritated feelings of the people of that country.

Mr. Hughes Hughes

said, that the people of the Isle of Wight felt very repugnant to the imposition of the tax on steam passengers, and hoped, in common with him, that it would not be persevered in.

Mr. Maurice Fitzgerald

considered the tax as an absolute prohibition on the poor Irish labourer coming to England to earn his bread, as it was one of no less than 300 per cent, on the amount of his passage-money. For instance, from Ireland to Glasgow, in consequence of steam navigation, he could now get Across for 4d.; while, if the tax proposed should be adopted, the price would be Is. 4d., which the Irish labourer never would be able to pay. At the same time, he was of opinion, that a beneficial tax might be levied on that artificial power which had, in so many instances, superseded manual industry.

Mr. Ridley Colborne

agreed with those hon. Members who coincided with the views of the noble Lord, and who praised the measures of the Government; and did not blame those who were opposed to the imposition of the tax: but what he had most particularly to complain of was, the course pursued by hon. Members who got up a debate every night on every tax proposed, with the view to goad the noble Lord and his colleagues into the imposition of a property-tax, which, after all, as had been stated by a noble Earl in another place, would not be agreed to.

Mr. Holme Summer

said, that the tax on steam passengers would not have the effect of prohibiting the importation of Irish labourers. But what he was astonished at was, that no efforts were made with that view by the maritime parishes, who had been subjected to the burthen of passing these Irish labourers back to their country, who were allowed to take all the money they had earned back to Ireland in their pockets. The city of Bristol alone had paid 2,500l. in this mode last year, and if this tax was imposed it would have to pay double that sum this year. He had expected from the hon. member for Liverpool some statement in opposition to the tax, as to the injurious effects it would have in Liverpool and other sea- ports in Lancashire, which must necessarily be much greater there than at Bristol.

Mr. Warburton

said, that the effect which the tax would produce would be, to put down steam-boats in England altogether, and, with them, to throw all persons who were dependant on that mode of employment, out. of bread. When it was considered that the coal-tax was to be only 5s. per Newcastle chaldron on exportation, it would be. seen that depots of coal would be formed at Calais, Dunkirk, Ostend, and other places on the coast of Flanders, and enable those places instantly to start steamers, and successfully to compete with the English vessels, as no duty was to be levied on them.

Lord Althorp

must, submit to the House that he was hardly dealt fairly by in this discussion. Although the House had seemed exceedingly gratified at every statement of a tax taken off, they had, more naturally than reasonably, objected to every proposition for a tax to be laid on. Now they must be aware, that in the present state of the Revenue, for every tax taken off there must be some burthen of another sort imposed; and the only question was, how to take off taxes that pressed injuriously on productive industry, and to substitute others that would not have a similar effect? It was said, that this was a tax contrary to all principle; he feared the same objection could be made to most taxes. It would be difficult to state any principle on which taxes ought to be imposed, at least so far as the advantages of labour were concerned. But he must say, with respect to what had been said as to the injustice of the tax, that he could not concur with the remark; for, when every land carriage was taxed, as it was at present, he thought it could not be unjust to impose some tax on the rival mode of carriage. It might, indeed, be proper to modify the tax in some manner, so as not to make it press unequally or improperly on any particular class of persons; but he saw no reason for giving up the tax altogether. It might be said, indeed, that the Government ought to take the tax off stage-coaches and post-horses, which was true; but when the object of the Government was to take off those taxes that pressed most heavily on productive industry, he did not think that any Gentleman in that House would be found to assert that that was the first which ought to be repealed. He must repeat, that he did not think it unfair to establish between the two modes of conveyance a greater degree of equality than at present. He was ready to admit, that for small distances, the tax as at present stilted, might be too high, but that was capable of regulation, and the tax, instead of being charged as now proposed, might, perhaps, be made more to resemble that now put upon stage-coaches. Some hon. Gentlemen seemed to think, that because he had consented to make some alterations in his original plan, he ought to submit to a change of the whole. He could assure such hon. Gentlemen that if they expected him to do so they would be mistaken. The House must be aware, that in laying on fresh taxes, and in remitting others, he was placed under great difficulties, for he was compelled to maintain a complete secrecy respecting his arrangements till he announced them to the House, and was therefore obliged to act, in some respects, upon defective information. He had, however, now received information on most of the subjects connected with the Budget, and should shortly be able to make up his mind decisively as to the course he should pursue.

Mr. Grove Price

said, that the proposed tax on passengers by steam would be felt as a great hardship by the lower and middle classes. A jaunt down the river was always considered one of the chief recreations of the citizens of London. In his opinion, the proposed tax would bring ruin on Gravessnd, Margate and Ramsgate— towns recently built to accommodate the citizens, a great majority of whom took advantage of steam communication. When the noble Lord considered the small advantage which could be derived from the tax, and the great difficulty and inconvenience it would produce, he trusted he would yield in this, as he and done on so many other occasions, to popular feeling and the opinion of the House, and give up the proposition.

Mr. Tennant

entirely concurred with those who objected to the tax on passengers in steam-boats on the grounds of inexpediency and impolicy. He wished, however, to refer to the noble Lord's apology for the tax, which was founded on the idea that it was a kind of counterbalance to the tax on stage-coaches. He contended, however, that steam carriage did not seriously affect stage-coaches. Stagecoaches had a monopoly of the land com- munication, and steamers of communication by sea; and the facility of steam communication was an inducement to many to go to different parts of the country, who would otherwise remain at home. Many who went in steamers, also returned by land, and in that way stage-coach travelling was encouraged by steam navigation. The stage-coach proprietors, he was convinced, so far from considering the proposed tax as a boon, would say that it was a tax on stage-coaches. He repeated, that the proposed tax was such, in point of fact. He only asked the noble Lord to inquire, and he would find that this was the light in which the tax would be viewed. He objected to it, however, on higher grounds. It was a tax on productive industry, and contrary to the principle which the noble Lord himself had so forcibly advocated. He himself was intimately connected with a set of adventurers—so they might be called—but he would say a set of speculators [laughter]. Well, then, as that excited risibility, he would say, that he was in communication with a company of capitalists and speculators,—who had it in contemplation at this very time, to establish a company for the increase of steam navigation to all parts of the world, not only for passengers, but goods. The proposed tax, however, would prevent all projects of that description, which, he contended, would be attended with great national advantage.

Mr. Alderman Thompson

thought, that if the noble Lord was as well aware as he was of the advantage and accommodation which the steam navigation on the river afforded to the shopkeepers and citizens of London, who were shut up in a narrow and confined atmosphere six days of the week, he would feel the injustice and cruelty of the proposed tax. The fare to Gravesend was one shilling, and the tax would amount to a shilling also—so that, in that instance, it would amount to 100 per cent. It would be felt, not only in London, but in all the sea-ports throughout the kingdom. The hon. Alderman concluded by reading an extract from a letter which he received from an individual residing in Ipswich, stating, that a steamer, which was about to be started, would be sent for sale to a foreign country, or broken up, if the proposed duty was imposed; and suggesting, that if there must be any tax, it should be laid on the vessel, rather than on the passengers.

Mr. Shaw

objected particularly to the inexpediency of the tax as it would affect Ireland. Those who argued against the Repeal of the Union in that country always insisted, that if such an event occurred, a tax of this kind would be inflicted, to the great injury of Ireland. He therefore respectfully submitted, that it would be most injudicious, in the present state of that country, to impose such a tax.

Mr. Poulett Thomson

said, the question before the House was, the repeal of the duty on coals, and not the tax on passengers by steam. No occasion more unfavourable, he contended, could have been selected for arguing against a tax on steamboats, than the bringing up of Resolutions which led directly to a measure by which the proprietors of steam-boats would be considerably relieved. The repeal of the duty on coals gave a great advantage to steam communication—a consideration entirely left out by those who argued against the proposed tax. It would be much better, he submitted, to reserve the arguments against this tax till the specific measure imposing it was introduced. The most extraordinary of all the arguments against it was that of the member for St. Alban's (Mr. Tennant), who contended that this would be not so much a tax on steam-vessels, as on stage-coaches. The very principle on which the measure was defensible was, that it proposed a tax on a species of conveyance not already taxed, and by that means put it on an equality with another species of conveyance (he meant stage-coaches), which was already taxed to a considerable amount. When steam navigation was first established, many petitions were presented to the House for a tax on steam-vessels, on the ground that they would be. injurious to stage-coach property, and if the hon. member for St. Alban's inquired, he would find, probably, that many of his own constituents had signed those petitions. When the whole of the measures of his noble friend were considered, he thought the proprietors of steam-vessels ought to be well pleased with what was proposed.

Lord Stormont

objected to the proposed tax, on the ground that it would operate most injuriously on the inhabitants of the Western Highlands. The argument that it would equalise the burthens now laid exclusively on stage-coach property did not apply to that part of the kingdom to which he adverted, because the inhabitants knew not the blessings of a stage-coach. He hoped the noble Lord would defer to the suggestions of nearly every Member who had spoken, and give up the tax on passengers by steam.

Mr. Alderman Wood

said, that when the noble Lord proposed a reduction of taxation, there had been a general cheer, but when new taxes were suggested, very one had some objection. He had no particular objection to the proposed tax on passengers by steam, except on the grounds urged by the last speakers. When the Chancellor of the Exchequer came forward with his proposition on this subject, he (Mr. Alderman Wood) gave notice that he should certainly move that Scotland should be relieved from the operation of the measure. The means by which he proposed to effect this was, by doing away with the drawback now paid on malt used in distilleries in Scotland. That was a dead robbery on the country, to the amount of above 200,000l. per annum; for he was sure the malt was never used on which the drawback was allowed. He gave notice, therefore, that when the noble Lord brought forward his Resolution for the imposition of this tax, he (Alderman Wood) would move that Scotland be exempted from it, and that as a substitute no drawback should be allowed hereafter to Scotland on malt. There were other means, by resorting to which the noble Lord could effect a considerable saving. There was a Motion of his which stood in the Order Book for a red net ion of salaries. Now he would tell the noble Lord, that if he did not effect reductions in the public salaries to the amount of 700,000l., he would not do his duty to the country. If he did that, he might let cotton and other articles go untaxed. If the noble Lord would reduce the salaries of sixty-nine departments which received about 3,000,000l. annually of the public money, he could do without the tax upon cotton, and other taxes which he proposed to impose. He hoped, therefore, that the noble Lord would introduce measures of the most severe retrenchment.

Sir George Clerk, as a Member for Scotland, thought it right to thank the worthy Alderman for his care of that country, and at the same time to assure the worthy Alderman, that he should support his proposition for excepting Scotland from the operation of the proposed tax; and, with equal cordiality, that he would support any motion for doing away with the drawback on malt used in Scotland. He hoped, however, the hon. Alderman would extend his benevolence to Ireland; and whilst he excepted that country from the operation of this tax, as well as Scotland, that he would also propose the abolition of the drawback which was allowed to the distilleries in Ireland as well as those in Scotland. After all the discussions which had taken place on the proposed measures of taxation, he (Sir G. Clerk) had come to the same conclusion which the hon. member for Calling-ton (Mr. Baring) had come to last year—that reducing one tax, and laying it on another, could not afford any material relief to the country.

Mr. Alderman Wood

entirely concurred in the hon. Baronet's (Sir G. Clerk's) suggestion, for placing Ireland on the same footing as Scotland, with respect both to the tax on steam passengers, and the drawback on malt.

Sir Charles Burrell

spoke, not so much from his own judgment, as from that of practical persons, when he said that the proposed tax on passsengers by steam would operate injuriously. If a tax was put upon steam-vessels, however, he saw no reason why those machines lately invented, and which conveyed tons of goods, to the great danger of his Majesty's subjects (he meant steam carriages) should be excepted. These conveyances came directly into competition with coaches and waggons.

Sir Charles Forbes

thought the noble Lord was like the man and his ass—he endeavoured to please everybody, and had pleased nobody. He recommended the noble Lord, however, to persevere in what, as a conscientious man, he believed to be right. For his own part, he thought, the tax on steam-vessels a very reasonable tax, and he would vote for it.

The Resolutions agreed to.

Mr. F. Lewis

rose for the purpose of asking the noble Lord whether it was his intention to repeal that particular duty paid on one description of coals, and best known as the Richmond ship-duty, as well as the general duty.

Lord Althorp

was understood to answer, that the subject was under consideration.

Lord G. B. Lennox

felt called upon, on behalf of the poor of Sussex, who had suffered greatly from the duty on coals, to express his gratitude to his Majesty's Government for reducing that tax. Great frauds were committed in that article, of which he could state a recent instance. He had imported some coals from Newcastle, and, as they were for his own use, he was anxious that they should be of the best description, and directed that they should be large:—134 chaldrons were shipped, but, when the vessel arrived in the port of Shoreham, those 134 chaldrons had increased to 156, having multiplied on the voyage. The large coals had been turned into small, and he had to pay duty and freight for twenty-two chaldrons more, in fact, than he received. The coals were deteriorated—a great part actually reduced to dust; and yet he had to pay 6s. a chaldron duty, and 12s. a chaldron freight; so that he received an inferior article, and had to pay about 20l. more for it. To prevent frauds of this description, he should propose that coals should be sold by weight, and not by measure.

Mr. Astell

recommended, that the duty on the manufacture of tiles should be taken off, as it yielded little to the revenue, and pressed severely on the manufacturer.

Colonel Sibthorp

thought, that if a duty was to be put on steam-vessels, as proposed, the fair way would be, a tax on the steam-power, and not on the passengers.

A Bill to amend the Customs Acts, founded on the Resolutions for repealing the duty on Coals carried from one part of the United Kingdom to another, and imposing a duty on Coals exported, was ordered to be brought in.