HC Deb 15 June 1832 vol 13 cc754-61

Mr. Poulett Thomson moved that the House resolve itself into a Committee of the whole House, to consider of the Customs' Duties Acts.

Mr. Goulburn

objected to proceeding to the consideration of such an important subject at so very late an hour (past one o'clock)

Mr. Poulett Thomson

said, that great inconveniences would arise from delaying the measure any longer.

House resolved itself into Committee.

Mr. Poulett Thomson

said, that his reason for urging the House to enter into this Committee was, his desire to lay before it the new schedule of duties which he proposed to insert in the Customs' Bill, which he was about to introduce. The schedule he was about to propose for adoption contained only one article which yielded much to the revenue; and in the present state of that revenue, it was not in the power of the Government to give up much income. There was no article named in this schedule, however, on which it was not proposed to reduce the duty. The objects he had had in view in preparing it had been, first, to relieve from oppressive duties articles which largely entered into the manufactures of this country, such as dyes; secondly, to relieve from oppressive duties a number of articles consumed by the poor—medicines, drugs, and other articles of that description; which duties, in consequence of successive alterations in the Customs, had, without its being so intended, been raised to a scale extremely burthensome; and, thirdly, to classify articles which, being of a similar description, ought to be subject to the same rate of duties, but which had been hitherto classed, under separate heads, and subjected to separate duties, to the great trouble of the officers, and the inconvenience of the trade. Oils, for instance, had been divided into twenty or thirty different denominations, bearing different duties, without any good reason for such distinctions. Such articles he had collected under one, or at most under two heads, and thus he had simplified the receipt of the duties, reduced their amount, afforded great convenience to trade, and diminished the price to the consumer. He wished further to reduce the duties upon some of those articles which came from the coast of Africa, and with which it was in the power of our merchants to carry on a very beneficial trade, if they could, by any returns, receive payment from the natives. Nothing could be more desirable than the extension of a trade in which all the articles we received were paid for in the manufactures of this country, and which was to be carried on with countries that held out greater prospects of a rapid increase of commerce than civilized nations. He had reason to believe that this schedule, with some trifling exceptions, had met with general approbation. He had stated, that there was one article of more than ordinary importance introduced into it; he meant hemp, from which the duty was entirely taken off. After deducting the drawback on cordage, and making other allowances, the abolition of this duty would occasion a loss to the revenue of about 60,000l.; and his noble friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, having consented to give that sum up, he did not think it could be devoted to a better purpose than this. The House had had the subject of the hemp duty before it more than once, and opportunities had occurred of exhibiting the extreme injury which many branches of the industry of this country sustained from the continuance of such a duty. It was impolitic as regarded our shipping, and unjust and contrary to all the principles on which we protected our own commerce, being a tax upon a raw material. He was aware that, in going into this Committee, a number of observations might be made upon the omissions of this schedule; he would willingly extend them further, but it must be recollected that he was limited to the sum which his noble friend thought he could give up. He would, without further remark, propose the schedule for the sanction of the Committee.

The schedule read.

Mr. Courtenay

expressed his full concurrence in the principle of the schedule; but there were a few omissions in it, to which he begged to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman; he meant omissions of articles, the reduction of the duty on which had been recommended by a Committee, of which he had the honour to he Chairman. Among these were cocoa, castor oil, and ginger; and he would still beg the right hon. Gentleman to turn his attention to them. Some of the reductions in this schedule were in respect of articles upon which protecting duties were imposed, such as oak bark, spelter, manganese, and others. He did not object to the reduction; but, perhaps, it was unnecessary; and certainly the right hon. Gentleman ought to call the attention of the Committee to them, in order that the Gentlemen interested in them might have an opportunity of considering the right hon. Gentleman's proposition. He had always been convinced of the expediency of making every possible reduction in the duties on those articles, and it was in the contemplation of the Board of Trade, when he had the honour of being connected with it, to bring forward a measure of this sort.

Mr. Goulburn

said, it appeared that the amount of duty on these various articles was no less than 300,000l.; and he wished to know whether the noble Lord had taken into consideration the loss occasioned to the revenue by the change, and whether he was prepared for it?

Mr. Poulett Thomson

The amount of revenue concerned was not so great as had been stated by the right hon. Gentleman. There were fifty-one articles, the duty on which was less than 100l. each; forty-eight which yielded between 100l. and 1,000l.; and forty-three articles above 1,000l., and less than 5,000l. The amount of duty on the first class was 12,000l., on the second, 20,000l., and on the last class, 120,000l.; so that the whole amount of duty received on these articles was about 152,000l.: in consequence, however, of other and smaller duties being imposed on some of the articles, the loss to the revenue would not be more than between 110,000l. and 120,000l. His right hon. friend had asked why some articles, the reduction of the duty on which was recommended by the West-India Committee, were not included in this schedule? It was his desire to include all these articles. Several were included, and he would state why others s were omitted. Aloes, castor oil, and cocoa, were articles of West-Indian produce; and the reduction of the duties on them would be satisfactory to Gentlemen connected with the colonies. There were three articles upon which the duty had not been altered—ginger, pimento, and colonial vinegar, although recommended by the Committee. The duty on ginger was reduced one-half some years ago, and on the average was not above five per cent. When the duty was formerly reduced, it was anticipated that great benefit would result, as it would lead to increased consumption. But since the reduction of the duty in 1825, there had been a falling off in the consumption, to the extent of one-third or one fourth; so that it was clear that a further reduction of duty would not lead to a greater consumption. It was clear that the reduction of this duty of five per cent would not affect the sale, nor be attended with any advantage to the producer. Again, there had been no reduction of the duty on pimento, and the reason was, that this article was connected with a number of others, and, if the duty was taken off one, it must be altered with reference to the others. Pimento was classed with spices, including pepper, and to reduce the duty on one it must be altered on all the articles of the class. The duty on pepper was now about 1s., while the price was only 2d. or 3d. He admitted that it was desirable to make reductions on these articles, but circumstances prevented them from doing so with regard to all of them. With respect to vinegar manufactured in, or imported from, the colonies, it must be recollected that there was a heavy Excise duty on vinegar manufactured in this country; it might, however, hereafter be a question whether the Customs duty might not be reduced; but, from the best information that he had been able to obtain, he was led to believe that the importation to this country would not be materially increased, even if the Customs duty on colonial vinegar were assimilated to the Excise duty paid on the article manufactured at home. He had stated the reasons which had induced the Government to exclude these articles from the present measure. His right hon. friend said, that there were some articles on which the duty had been unnecessarily reduced. He differed from his right hon. friend on that point; and did not hesitate to say, that there was not a reduction proposed which could not be justified. In the first place, as to the duty on spelter, that had lately become an article of considerable importance in connexion with our manufactures; and, in consequence of the mode of rolling it, was now applied to a variety of useful purposes. As to oak bark, the duties on other barks had been altered, but there had been no change with respect to that article, for at present it paid no duty. The reductions that had taken place had been chiefly in barks used for dyeing or medicinal purposes. The duty on barks used by dyers and tanners was to be 8d. per cwt., while that on medicinal barks was to be 1d. per lb.; at the same time, the extract of bark imported from the colonies was to pay a duty of 1d. per cwt., instead of 3s. as formerly. As to the duty on manganese, that article, like spelter, was of very considerable importance in our manufactures. The consumption of it in the process of bleaching was very considerable. As to the reduction of the duty on hides, the whole amount of that would not exceed 20,000l.

Mr. Alderman Thompson

approved of the reductions, but there were articles omitted which he certainly expected would have been inserted, in consequence of the representations that had been made by merchants and persons engaged in trade, and the hopes that had been held out to them. He alluded particularly to currants, upon which there was a duty levied of fifty per cent. The price of currants in the island of Zante was 8s. per cwt., but the duty charged was 44s. per cwt. The quantity of currants imported was about 7,000 tons; and of that quantity, 2,000 tons had sometimes remained in the hands of the importers, in consequence of their not being able to sell them, from the high price, and they had been glad to export them for the sake of the drawback. If the duty were lowered, the consumption would be considerably increased. And he could not understand why this article should be taxed at such an enormous rate, when raisins, which was a foreign article, paid a duty of only 21s. per cwt. They were brought entirely from foreign countries, with the exception of a very small quantity from the Cape of Good Hope; but currants were all brought from the Ionian Islands. It was most inexpedient that such a heavy duty should be placed upon currants, as they were much consumed by the poorer classes, and, if the price were reduced, the consumption would greatly increase. He was glad that the right hon. Gentleman had reduced the duties on spelter, manganese, cobalt, and other metals, and as far as he could judge at present, the reduction of duties seemed judicious.

Mr. Barge

regretted that his Majesty's Government had not found it convenient to reduce the duties on pimento and ginger. It perhaps was not generally known, that the larger portion of the latter article brought to market, was the produce of persons of colour and emancipated slaves; and when such exertions were made to prepare the slaves for emancipation, it would be well to give as much encouragement as possible to the production of articles chiefly cultivated by the free population of the colonies. The right hon. Gentleman was, doubtless, aware that there was a discriminating duty on the importation of copper ore, not being the produce of any of our possessions in the East Indies. Recently, however, there had been discovered in the eastern part of the island of Jamaica, some valuable copper mines, and as hopes were entertained of working them with the greatest success, he saw no reason why the produce of the territories of the East-India Company should be placed on a better footing than that of our West-India colonies. He trusted, now the circumstance was known, that his Majesty's Government would equalize the duties.

Mr. Goulburn

thought that the duties on both pimento and ginger should be reduced considerably, and more especially as the class of persons who were chiefly engaged in the cultivation of these articles, were the emancipated population. He should also have been extremely glad if a reduction could have been made in the duty on colonial vinegar.

Mr. Warburton

felt much gratified at the reductions proposed; and would avail himself of that opportunity of suggesting to his right hon. friend the expediency of some new arrangements in the schedule, as things were classified under one head which had no connexion with one another. For instance, under the head "gums," there was gum Arabic, or Senegal; and then gum Benjamin, which was not a gum. He should have been glad if his right hon. friend had proposed a reduction of the duty on cinnamon. We were keeping up the old and abominable system of Dutch monopoly in the isle of Ceylon with respect to this article, and he was in hopes that something would have been done to put an end to it.

Lord Sandon

trusted, that the reductions would be extended to other articles. On some articles there was a difference of duty without any assignable reason; for instance, three times as much was paid on the teeth of the sea-horse as on those of the elephant. Again, there were some articles upon which it was quite unnecessary to make a reduction. Chicory, for example, which was used to adulterate coffee—it would have been much better if the right hon. Gentleman had been able to reduce the duty on coffee. Again, there was a difference in the duties on some articles brought from the East and West Indies, in favour of the former; and he could not imagine why that should continue. There was one point which he thought a matter of serious consideration—the importation of goods in British or foreign ships; and they ought, in regulating the duties, to give an advantage to the former. He would also press upon the attention of the House, the propriety of extending the privileges of the out-ports; and he did not see why the system of warehousing should not be carried to the same extent in the out-ports as in the metropolis.

Mr. Poulett Thomson

said, the reason why the duty on currants had not been reduced was, the amount which it yielded to the revenue, and the doubts which existed whether the consumption would increase from the reduction of the duty. The hon. and learned Gentleman alluded to copper ore being found in Jamaica; he was not before aware of the existence of copper mines in that colony, and did not see any necessity for preserving the distinction. With respect to gum Senegal, he would merely observe, that it was brought from a French colony on the coast of Africa, and formerly was obtained only in a most inconvenient mode; being shipped from the colony to France, and afterwards sent to some Trans-atlantic possession, to be shipped to England. He must do France the justice to say, that she was the first to do away with this absurdity, and to allow gum Senegal to come direct to England. With respect to cinnamon, to which his hon. friend referred, that article was so mixed up with the system of government in the island of Ceylon, that he should abstain from going into the question. There was only one other article to which it was necessary to refer—which was tincal, or borax; essential in our china manufactures. Many lives had been annually sacrificed by the use of white-lead in this manufacture, but the necessity of using white-lead had been obviated to a great extent by the use of boracic acid, and by the introduction of cobalt.

Resolutions agreed to. House resumed.