HC Deb 02 July 1834 vol 24 cc1080-8

On the Motion of Mr. Poulett Thomson the House resolved into Committee on the Customs' Acts.

Mr. Poulett Thomson

said it was merely his intention to propose certain resolutions, embracing the alterations in the Customs-laws he thought advisable. They might be afterwards discussed. It was well known to many hon. Gentlemen opposite, that the expediency of reducing the duty on the importation of dried fruits was pressed on the Government by the hon. member for London, who made a Motion for the reduction of the duty on currants. He opposed that Motion, because, he thought that the Chancellor of the Exchequer could not spare the sum which the duty on currants brought to the revenue; and because he conceived that it was not desirable to take any measures with respect to any particular article; but that the better course was to deal with the whole class to which that article belonged. He therefore did not think it right to touch the duty on currants without, at the same time, touching the duty on other fruit; but he told his hon. friend that the attention of Government was turned to the subject, and in the present Session, if possible, a reduction of the duty on fruit generally would be proposed. He therefore had considerable pleasure in informing the Committee, that one of the resolutions which it was his intention to propose would declare, that the duty on currants should be reduced to the extent of one-half of its present amount; and part of that Resolution would embrace a proportionate reduction of the duty on raisins, prunes, and other fruits, belonging to the same class. One of his resolutions would apply to an article for the reduction of the duty on which the noble Lord (Lord Morpeth) the member for Yorkshire, had given notice of a Motion,—he meant olive oil,—which was much used in machinery, and was of the greatest importance to enable the consumer to obtain it at as cheap a rate as possible. The Government could not reduce the duty on that article without acting on the same principle it had laid down with respect to the duty on fruit, and reducing the duty on articles of a similar description. He accordingly proposed to reduce the duties on cocoanut oil and palm oil. The Government had been pressed to remove all the duties from these articles; but however much he was disposed in all cases to make the raw material obtainable at as cheap a rate as possible, he was bound to look to the state of the revenue, and he was also bound to consider whether it would be fair to take the duty off those articles entirely without at the same time removing it from other similar articles. But though he did not propose to repeal the duty entirely, by reducing it one-half on those three articles, he was conferring a benefit on the manufacturing interest; and doing every thing which, under the circumstances, could be expected. He had, however, to state, with respect to the reduction of the duty on olive oil, that it would not take effect on that article which was the produce of the Two Sicilies, unless his Majesty in council should otherwise direct. He would state the reasons which had induced him to make this exception. For some time past, negotiations had been carrying on for the purpose of establishing greater freedom of intercourse between this country and the Two Sicilies; but he was sorry to say, that the Government of the latter state was not so well disposed as he had expected, to allow the commodities of this country to enter his dominions on paying moderate duties. During the pending negotiations, therefore, it was not thought advisable to reduce the duty on articles which were the produce of that state. For though he was prepared to contend, as he ever had done, that we ought to look solely to the interests of our own consumers (let other countries adopt what measures they pleased), still he thought that, under the peculiar circumstances which he had described, this country ought to retain the power of withholding from the produce of the Two Sicilies those advantages which she conceded to the produce of other countries until she obtained from the Government what she had a right to expect. In the resolutions there would be included some minor articles, not involving any very material amount of duty, the produce of the West Indies. The reduction of those duties, in order to encourage the produce of the West Indies had been much pressed upon him, but, in consequence of the reductions which it had been his good fortune to carry into effect since he joined the Government very little remained to be done on this head; at the same time there were one or two articles of minor importance, such as plantains, liqueurs, pimento, &c., the reduction of the duty on which would, by increasing the sale, give employment to the population in the West Indies. It might appear that the proposed reductions of duty were trifling; but he was bound to consider what amount of revenue his noble friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer could spare. By the reduction of the duty on fruits, and on currants especially, there would be an apparent sacrifice of revenue to the amount of 150,000l.; and he would not have Gentlemen suppose, because some of the articles, the duty on which he proposed to repeal might appear of trifling importance, or because some of their names even might be unknown to many hon. Members, that therefore, the reduction would not be of any benefit. He could refer to many articles with respect to which scarcely any loss had been occasioned to the revenue, notwithstanding that the duty on them had been reduced from an amount almost prohibitory. The traffic in some of them, which had been very limited before the reduction of the duty, had since become exceedingly large, to the advantage of the shipping and commerce of this country. He would instance two or three articles, the duties on which were, at his suggestion, reduced in 1831 and 1832, in confirmation of this observation. In 1831, he was, to use a vulgar expression, a good deal quizzed for submitting to the House a long list of articles, a great number of which were only known to most Members of that House as medicinal drugs, though they were of great importance in different manufactures. He was sneeringly asked what signified it whether senna was a halfpenny a-pound cheaper or not? Now, he would show the House that, by the reduction of the duty on many of those articles, the trade of the country had been increased, while, at the same time, the manufactures in which they were used were carried on at a cheaper rate, without any sacrifice of revenue. Boraic acid was one of the articles, the duty on which was reduced in 1832. The quantity imported in 1831, amounted to 300,000lb. The duty was reduced from 4d. per lb. down to 4s. per cwt.; and the consumption had increased in two years to 775,000lb., while the loss incurred by the revenue was trifling. Zaffir was likewise an article greatly used in manufactures, but up to 1832, its importation had been checked by a duty of 1d. per lb. At that period, the duty was reduced to 1s. per cwt., and the consumption had increased from 266,000lb. to 329,000lb. Similar remarks might be extended to the articles of quicksilver, bitter almonds, and cocoa, in all of which an increase in the amount of importation had taken place, after the reduction of the duty. The amount received by the revenue on account of the duty collected on all the various articles previous to the reduction was 63,000l.; after the reduction, 33,000l., making a loss of not more than forty-five per cent., while the reduction of the duty on each article varied from 5–6ths to 7–8ths, and in some instances, to 15–16ths. He stated these facts in order to deter gentlemen from sneering when they saw such articles as dried pears and apples in the list which it would presently be his duty to place in the hands of the chairman. His resolutions would chiefly apply to the reduction of duty; but there was one duty which it was his intention entirely to remit, and that was the duty on the exportation of coal. The hon. member for Bridport shook his head at this statement; but he confessed that he did not share the hon. Member's apprehensions, that after a period of 1,400 years, the stock of coal the country would be exhausted. He believed, that the remitting of the duty would afford very considerable benefit to the shipowners of this country; for it was notorious, that a great proportion of the coal which went abroad was carried in British ships, and it was not his intention to remove the discriminating duties on foreign ships with respect to this article. It had been thought that, by placing a less duty on small coal than on round coal, its exportation would increase, and that the necessity for burning it away on the ground would cease. That object had not been attained, for the exportation had not, in fact, increased. In 1830, the amount exported was 240,000 tons, and at present it was 235,000 tons. It was not to be expected, therefore, as long as the duty continued, that this coal would be exported. Besides, as other commodities were permitted to be exported at one-half per cent., it would not have been fair to refuse to the owners of this particular commodity permission to export it on the same terms. There was another article included in the schedule to which he trusted no objection would be made—he alluded to books printed abroad. The present duty on the importation of foreign books was 5l. per cwt. It was impossible to take off that duty entirely, so long as there existed in this country an excise on paper; but he proposed to reduce the duty, taking pre- cautions at the same time for the protection of copyright, to 2l. 10s. per cwt. This reduction would, he thought, afford very sensible relief to those who imported books into this country; but he wished it to be understood, that books, the first edition of which appeared in this country within fifteen or twenty years ago, would not be allowed to be imported. The first article in the schedule was animal oil, the duty on which he proposed to reduce to 1s. 3d. per cwt. The duty on palm oil and cocoa nut oil he proposed to reduce from 2s. 6d. to 1s. 3d. The duty on these oils amounted, in 1833, to 27,000l., and consequently the loss by the reduction would equal 13,500l. He proposed to reduce the duty on olive oil from eight guineas per tun to four guineas. It was not, however, his intention to go through the whole list of articles, but there was one alteration for which he trusted he should receive the sanction of the House at the proper time; he alluded to the power which it was proposed to give to inland towns to place goods in bond. The revenue would be benefitted by the payments which would be made by those towns which chose to take advantage of this regulation, and care would, of course, be taken to guard against smuggling. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the following resolutions:

1.—That instead of the Duties on Customs now payable upon the importation of the following articles, the several Duties herein set forth in respect of the same respectively, shall be made payable; that is to say,—
Apples—dried, the bushel 0 2 0
Books—being of editions printed in or since the year 1801, bound or unbound, the cwt. 2 10 0
Currants—the cwt. 1 2 0
Figs—the cwt. 0 15 0
Grapes—for every 100l. of the value 5 0 0
Oil—from and after the 10th Oct. 1834, namely:—
Animal Oil—the cwt. 0 2 6
Cocoa-nut Oil—the cwt. 0 1 3
Olive Oil—the tun 4 4 0
—the produce of, or imported from any part of the dominions of the King of the Two Sicilies, the tun 8 8 0
imported in a ship belonging to any of the subjects of the King of the Two Si-

2. That no abatement of the Duties of Customs be made in respect of goods saved at sea, and sold for the payment of salvage.

3. That no Abatement of the Duties of Customs be allowed in respect of any drugs imported from foreign parts on account of any damage received by the same during the voyage.

4. That the exemption from Export Duty in respect of Woollen Manufactures exported to places within the limits of the East India Company's Charter be repealed.

5. That the Duty of Exportation upon coals, culm, and cinders, exported in British ships, be repealed; and that the duty of exportation on all coals, culm, and cinders, exported in foreign ships, be 4s. for every ton of the same.

Mr. Robinson

approved generally of the alterations proposed by the right hon. Gentleman, observing, that the revenue arising from currants would not, after the present year, be so unproductive as might be supposed from the reduction that had been announced. There was one alteration, the reason of which he confessed he could not see—namely, the reduction on, fruit, the produce of Spain and Portugal, because the duty on that of our own colonies was reduced. He thought it would be wise for the Government to keep the power of reducing that duty in its own hands, so that it might be used to obtain from those countries a reduction of duties on our commodities. He hoped that when the President of the Board of Trade had time, he would direct his attention to a list which he could lay before him, of at least fifty articles, the aggregate duties on which scarcely amounted to 40,000l. a-year.

Mr. Warburton

also approved of the greater part of the changes which the Government proposed to make. The article of coals, however, was one of the exceptions to his assent. He was borne out by the authority of Mr. Ricardo, in saying, that the removal of an export duty from such an article as coals was most impolitic. In all the manufactures in which that article was used, the effect of the removal would be to put our foreign rivals upon the same footing as ourselves. He regretted to find himself under the necessity of saying, that the change made appeared to have proceeded rather from the influence of some members for northern places, than from any strong conviction that the alteration was based upon a sound principle.

Lord Althorp

said, the fact was, the producers of coal were in distress and wanted relief. He concurred in the principle laid down by Mr. Ricardo, but the question was, whether the article in question could continue to be exported at all under the existing duty. There was no revenue worth talking of derived from Holland for coals; the effect of the duty was almost altogether to prevent the export.

Mr. Alderman Thompson

asked what rate of duty was to be laid on coals carried in foreign ships?

Mr. P. Thomson

said, the present rate of duty was 6s. 8d. per ton on round coals, and 4s. on small coals carried in foreign ships, while the duty on round coals carried in British ships was 3s. 4d., and that on small coals 2s. He now proposed that 4s. should be the duty on all coals carried in foreign ships, without distinction between the round and small coals.

Lord Morpeth

thought, that the duty on olive oil should be reduced to 3l. 3s. or 3l. 2s. per ton, as recommended by Mr. Macculloch.

Mr. Grote

regretted, that the duty on barilla was not to be removed; it would soon be no longer imported into this country. The present imports of that article did not amount to half what they were three years ago.

Mr. George Frederick Young,

in reference to the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman opposite on the subject of permitting inland towns to bond goods, could not help saying, that that was such a change of magnitude and importance that it ought not to be brought forward at that late period of the Session.

Mr. Brotherton

said, the proposed reduction of duties would be beneficial to the manufacturing interest, and give great satisfaction to the country. The allowing of bonded warehouses in inland towns would be a great advantage to Manchester and other places. He felt some doubt as to the policy of allowing the exportation of coals.

Colonel Torrens

was sure that the exportation of coals would be injurious to our manufactures.

Sir Matthew White Ridley

thought there need be no apprehensions entertained with respect to the export of coals; Russia, Prussia, Holland, France, and other parts of the Continent, were now in possession of coals, and we no longer possessed a monopoly.

The Resolutions were agreed to.