HC Deb 21 June 1836 vol 34 cc675-9
Mr. Grote

said, that he bad a question to put to the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the subject of the Tea Duties. The House was aware, that on the 1st of July next, the duty on tea was to be raised from 1s. 6d. to 2s. 1d. a pound. Now, the stock of bohea tea unsold was at present very large, and it would be a great inconvenience to the holders to have to provide for the immediate payment of so large a sum. In consequence of the representations which he had made to the right hon. Gentleman on behalf of his constituents, the right hon. Gentleman had been pleased to grant time for the payment of this duty. He was therefore induced to call upon the right hon. Gentleman, who, though he had not granted all that was asked, had, at any rate, granted some part of it, to state distinctly to the House what indulgence he intended to grant to the holders of the stock in hand.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

Those hon. Members who were acquainted with this subject, and who had heard the reply which he had given to this question on a former occasion, would anticipate the reply which he intended to give it now. His reply was, that however distressing it might be, that the parties holding large stocks of bohea tea should suffer —and no man could regret that they would suffer, more than he did—the departure from the provisions of an Act of Parliament, which the parties themselves had called for, would be a precedent full of inconvenience to the large mercantile community of which those individuals formed a part. If such a precedent were established, no man would know on what he had to depend. If a law made at one time could be altered at another, because the parties on whom it operated found it difficult to meet the payment of the duties which it imposed, there would be no end to the applications which would be made to him for such alterations in our fiscal statutes. He was therefore prepared now, as he was formerly, to give an unqualified negative to the proposition for affording to the holders of the stock of bohea now unsold an indefinite time for the payment of the duties on it. The House would recollect that their application was one of a very peculiar kind. It was to give them the full benefit of the late Act, so far as regarded the remission of duty, and to free them from the obligations of it, so far as regarded the duties that were raised. He would, however, inform the House of the determination to which the Treasury had come upon one part of this subject. It so happened that the alteration of the law had been made with the cognizance and at the suggestion of the parties now applying for relief. That alteration would make the payment of a considerable sum necessary to all who were not prepared to pay the new duty of 2s. 1d. per pound. He was aware that it would afford great facilities to the parties to postpone the payment of the new duties to a period after the 1st of July; and to afford those facilities a special Treasury minute had been issued, authorising all persons entering tea for home consumption previous to the 1st of July to take a time not exceeding thirty-one days for the payment of the duties to which they then became liable. There was no doubt that there were a great many precedents for granting them such a privilege. There were, however, some other points connected with this subject, which could not be settled without coming before the House; and the Treasury minute therefore contained a direction that a copy of it should be forthwith laid on the table of the House of Commons. The advantage which would be derived from the extension of this period to individuals residing in the city of London, would be extended to individuals in all parts of the united kingdom; for it would be open to great objection, if this indulgence had been limited to the city of London, and not extended to such places as Liverpool, Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Dublin. He hoped that he had given a distinct answer to the question of the hon. Member for the city of London; and he had now only to observe, that the Treasury minute to which he had alluded, would be laid that evening On the table of the House.

Mr. Robinson

said, that so far as the Government had conceded the postponement of the payment of this money for a month, it had acted wisely; and so far as it had refused to remit the lower duties, it had performed its duty to the public.

Mr. Stewart Marjoribanks

was understood to say, that the tea trade were not satisfied with the conduct of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and could not thank him for the been which he professed that he conferred upon it.

Viscount Sandon

did not wish to create a discussion, when, strictly speaking, there was no question before the House. He only rose to protest, on the part of his constituents, against being exposed to other more serious losses by any further changes in the duties on tea.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, he had no power to prevent agitation of this question more than of any other; but he had no intention whatever of introducing any further changes in the duties on tea.

Sir R. Peel

was very anxious to know when the Treasury minute would be laid on the table. Undoubtedly, even in the present state of information which they possessed on the subject, there seemed some peculiarity in this case. The law fixed the 1st of July for the payment of the high duty; and the Treasury minute extended the period, obviously admitting the existence of some peculiarity in the circumstances of the parties. He did not wish to provoke a debate on the present occasion, hut he must say, the question had not been very fairly stated in the conversation which had already taken place. The parties, said the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. T. Rice), had full notice of the law. It ought to be recollected that orders for tea had been given before the law passed. The Bill was brought in late last Session; it did not become law till August, and then provided that on the 1st of July following a high rate of duty should be paid on certain teas. The orders having been given before the passing of the Act, and there being no power since the 1st of July last to order tea from China, the large stock at present on hand must have arisen under the impression that the old duty would be continued. Some of the parties, no doubt, had acceded to the passing of this Act, but others could not be bound by their acquiescence. On the whole, however, he was not prepared to say that the right hon. Gentleman had not done well in acting as he had. The special circumstances of the case deserved favourable attention, at least, to the extent granted by Government.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, the Treasury minute would be laid on the table in the course of the evening, when he should be most willing and happy to give any explanation which might be required of the principles by which he had been guided in this particular case. He trusted he should be enabled to justify the course he had adopted, and to show, however desirous Government might have been, and they were really most desirous to give any relief to the parties, which might be consistent with the maintenance of the general principles that should regulate the financial and commercial transactions of the country, they could not have gone further than they had already done. Before the question had been asked, he felt the matter to he one which it was fitting should he taken into favourable consideration, and he had therefore given directions as to the Treasury minute to the effect he had stated.

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