HC Deb 01 August 1836 vol 35 cc739-43

The House went into Committee on the Customs Bill.

Mr. Poulett Thomson

would avail himself of that opportunity to make a statement of the alterations which he intended to propose in the existing custom duties. Owing to the state of the revenue, he was happy to state to the House, that he should be able to relieve a class of articles, which he had long been anxious to relieve, from the oppressive duties to which they were at present liable. He would commence with the article of spices. After the best consideration which he could give to the subject, he found that there were four articles of spices on which an alteration of the duties was particularly desirable. These articles were pepper, pimento, cloves, and mace. The duty on pepper was at present 1s. a pound. Its price in bond was 4d. per pound. He proposed to reduce the duty to 6d. a pound. By the reduction of duty on this condiment, he expected that the consumption would be greatly increased, and consequently that the revenue would not be much diminished. The reduction would also effect another advantage to the public—it would put a stop to the adulteration which was carried on at present in the article. The amount of revenue derived from the duty on spices was 100,000l. By this reduction, he did not expect to lose more than 25,000l. He should also make a reduction in the duty on pimento. That article was nearly equal in price to pepper; it was 5d. a pound in bond. The duty on it was now 5d. a pound; he proposed to reduce it to 3d. a pound. Pimento would then fall to its real value; for, by this alteration, the duty on pimento would he in the same proportion to its real value as the duty on pepper was to its real value. The present duty on cloves was 9d.; he proposed to reduce it to 6d.; an alteration which would bring the spice duties down to their proper scale. There were also several other articles which he would put into the hands of the Chairman, and on which he intended to propose a reduction. They were, perhaps, of small importance individually, but they were, nevertheless, calculated to give great relief to the commerce of the country. Great complaints had often been made of the heavy duties imposed on foreign maps and charts introduced into this country. He proposed to put maps and charts upon the same footing as prints, and to make them pay as prints did, a duty of 1d. a-piece. He was obliged in his statement to pass very rapidly from one subject to another; and his transitions might, in some instances, appear rather ridiculous. He proposed, for instance, to reduce the duty on castor oil. Gentlemen might laugh at that; but they ought to recollect that castor oil was used for other purposes besides those of medicine. The duty on castor oil was 1s. 6d. or 2s. a pound. That duty might all be very well, so long as castor oil was only used as a medicine; but it was now used to a considerable extent in our manufactories as a substitute for olive oil and for palm oil. He had made some years ago an alteration in the duties levied upon this oil, the produce of our own foreign possessions. It turned out, however, that a very small quantity of oil came to this country from our own possessions. There were, however, several islands in the Indian Archipelago, in which it was produced in large quantities. He therefore intended to propose, that there should be a reduction in the duty on castor oil imported generally from the East. He intended to make the duty 1s. 3d. a cwt., instead of being, as at present, 1s. 6d. a pound. The next alteration he intended to propose, was a reduction of the duty on gold and silver plate imported into the country. There was at present a duty on silver plate imported into this country, equal to the value of the silver itself. He did not intend to take off the duty generally, but he did intend to reduce it in a great degree to all persons who introduced the plate for their own private use. Almost every day numerous applications were received at the Treasury, from persons returning from a residence either on the continent or in the colonies, for a remission of duty on articles of foreign plate, to which they had become attached from long usage. For, at present, they could not import their plate without either paying a duty on it equal to its value, or having it battered up and rendered unfit for use. No one could wish for the continuance of such a tax. He therefore proposed to admit silver plate for the private use of the parties importing it, at 2s. 6d. per ounce. He would also reduce the duty on gold plate so imported, from 3l. 16s. an ounce to 1l. He also proposed to reduce the duty on rags, and especially on those woollen rags which were afterwards used in the formation of a certain species of rough cloth. Those woollen rags paid at present a high rate of duty. They came into the country as woollen goods, and paid a duty of fifteen per cent. on their value. He intended to fix a duty on them of 1s. a ton. There were one or two other reductions which he also wished to propose. He proposed to reduce the duty on the finer species of woods used in cabinet making, as, for instance, cedar and rosewood. Some of his hon. Friends near him knew, that there was a favourable distinction made, in point of duty, upon wood imported from British possessions in Africa. There was some difficulty in ascertaining what were British possessions in that part of the world. He therefore proposed to extend the distinction to all wood coming to this country from the coast of Africa. He thought that we ought to encourage, as much as possible, importation from that coast, inasmuch as the countries bordering upon it must take from us manufactured goods in return. It was well known that certain lower duties were paid on woods imported from the British possessions in Africa. Some of the difficulties which arose out of that distinction, he had been able to remedy without application to Parliament; but there were some of which he could not get rid without the assistance of the Legislature. On such articles, then, as teak and wax, he proposed to do away with the distinction altogether, and to allow them to come in at the lower duties when imported from the coast of Africa. There was only one more article on which he intended to propose an alteration of duty, and that was verdigris. Attempts had been frequently made to establish manufactories of verdigris in this country, but they had almost all of them failed. He believed that there was only one manufactory of the kind left in England, and he had some reason to believe, that even that solitary manufactory would not be continued much longer. In point of fact, we did not possess the means; we had not the raw material of which verdigris was made. It had been pressed upon him by those who dealt in the article, that he ought to reduce the duty on verdigris from 1s. to 6d. His hon. Friend, the Member for Kilmarnock, had a notice of motion upon that article in the order book. His hon. Friend wished to reduce the duty to 3d. To that proposition he could not accede; but he had no objection to reduce it to 6d., which he thought might do as a reduction of duty for the present. Having stated thus much, he was now anxious to state to the Committee what the effect of reductions of the nature which he proposed, would be, not only upon the revenue, but also upon the general trade and commerce of the country. To some hon. Gentlemen it might appear ridiculous to speak of these small items of reduction. He hoped, however, that they would exempt from their ridicule the article of spices, which formed a considerable portion of the public revenue. As it had been his fate, however, to introduce several of these small reductions into former Customs' Bills, and as they still appeared to be trifling to the House, he hoped that they would indulge him with their attention for a few minutes, while he showed to them how much had been done, almost without injury to the revenue, to relieve the trade and commerce of the country by paying attention to articles of this kind. He would just state to the House what was the estimated, and what was the actual loss to the revenue on a certain number of articles, which he had no occasion then to enumerate; and on which he had effected a reduction of duty in the years 1832, 1833, and 1834. The estimated loss was 411,000l., but the actual loss in the last year was not more than 240,000l. Instead, therefore, of being a total loss, as might have been supposed, it was only a loss of sixty per cent. In the year 1832, he had reduced the duty on verdigris from 2s. to 1s. The estimated loss to the revenue was 2,250l. The actual loss was only 380l. Again, he had reduced the duty on cocoa from 6d. to 2d. The estimated loss to the revenue was 10,000l., the actual loss was only 5,000l. He had effected a reduction in the duty on madder root. The estimated loss to the revenue was 14,500l., the actual loss was not more than 7,300l. On currants and raisins he had effected a considerable reduction of duty. The estimated loss to the revenue was 200,000l., the actual loss did not exceed 130,000l. In that case, by a reduction of the duty to one-half of its former amount, the actual loss had been only two-thirds of the amount at which it was estimated. He calculated that it would be still less in future years. He mentioned these facts to show the House how much could be accomplished for the general relief of trade and commerce by a cautious reduction of these duties. Whoever might hereafter fill the situation which he had the honour to hold, would, he hoped, follow up the course which he had pursued with so much benefit to the trade, and with so little injury to the revenue of the country.

Dr. Bowring

eulogised the liberal system of commercial policy which his right hon. Friend, the President of the Board of Trade, had adopted, and hoped that by a steady adherence to it our law of customs might be reduced before long to a very short compass. He thanked his right hon. Friend for the reductions he had made, and predicted that they would be generally satisfactory to the country.

Mr. Ewart

rejoiced in the reductions which the right hon. Gentleman had made, but regretted that he had not made a reduction in the duty on Neapolitan olive oil. That reduction would have been a boon of very great importance to the manufacturing interests of the country.

Clauses of the Bill agreed to.—House resumed. Bill to be reported.